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What can a food diary teach you?

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First of all, I’d just like to point out that you don’t need to keep a food diary for the rest of your days. And I particularly don’t think calorie tracking Apps should be used long term either as I think eating should be intuitive and you should be able to feel what your body needs.

However, keeping a food diary is a great tool when you perhaps want to make healthy changes, you want to pinpoint why you feel a certain way (e.g. lacking energy, bloating) or you want to check that you are getting a good intake of specific nutrients. It can highlight things that you perhaps would not have recognised otherwise. It is also a good way of keeping yourself accountable if you have specific goals such as weight loss. When it comes to eating I think most of us are often on autopilot and I also think that how we feel has a lot to do with what we eat. Try to keep a food diary for about 3-7 days.

How to keep a food diary

Forget tracking Apps for now, especially if this is the first time you have completed a food diary. Phone Apps can be inaccurate, confusing and time consuming. Just use a good old pen and paper. Do a diary for between 3-7 days.

Write down what you eat

Put the quantities of what you ate (e.g. 1 cup of…2 tablespoons of…)

Add details about where you were and how you were feeling (e.g. tired, bored, happy etc.)

Remember that you are not judging yourself, so be honest with what you have eaten. It’s not about guilt tripping yourself about what you ate. This is also the case if you complete a diary for a Nutritionist. We aren’t there to judge, we are there to see how we can help you to maybe recognise your triggers for eating certain foods or ways that you can make small changes.

What can it show you?

  1. First and foremost, let’s look at the positives! A diary can highlight what you are doing well. For example, it might be that you eat tonnes of veg each day or that you always drink lots of water.
  2. What you might be lacking – you might notice that you are lacking in specific nutrients. For example, maybe you haven’t been eating many dairy sources of calcium or even non-dairy sources of calcium. You can then consider what you could add to your diet to boost your calcium intake, such as some yoghurt as a snack or milk with your breakfast.
  3. Why you might be snacking on sugary foods mid-morning – a diary can often highlight an individual’s morning routine such as skipping breakfast or not getting enough protein with breakfast. By noticing things like this it can help you to understand your eating habits for later on in the day.
  4. How you feel after eating specific foods – Do you often get an upset stomach and not sure why? It could be something specific that you are eating. I had a friend who started using a poor-quality protein supplement. She kept a diary and noticed that her upset stomach was always after her protein shake. She stopped using it and hey presto!
  5. Which moods lead to eating which foods – a food diary can pinpoint what your triggers are for eating less healthy foods. For example, it might be that when you are feeling stressed you reach for the cakes or drink excessive amounts of caffeine. Or when you are bored you may be more likely to reach for the biscuits. See if there are any patterns whilst keeping the food diary.
  6. If you are eating too many calories or too little calories – most of us either underestimate what we’ve eaten or overestimate. Overestimation can particularly be the case with active people who follow the ‘clean eating’ way of life (just to point out I don’t and won’t use that phrase!). We often pick at things or eat random snacks on the go and this can often add up with the calories. On the other side of the spectrum active individuals are often not eating enough to support their daily exercise regimes.

Once you’ve finished your diary, and you can see more clearly what’s going on you might start to think about making small changes (although your diet might be perfect already 😊 ). Small changes might include eating breakfast, including some protein with breakfast or drinking more water. Small changes can make a huge difference!


Ann-Marie is a Registered Nutritionist (RNutr) and works with groups and individuals on a one to one basis. Get in touch if you need advice!  

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