No matter your health goals, you’ve probably heard that you should keep a food journal. But why, exactly?
Well, no matter if you’re trying to lose, gain, or maintain weight, the food you eat will make a big difference. And unfortunately, research has shown that we are notoriously bad at eyeballing portion sizes, remembering what we’ve eaten, and estimating our calorie intake.[*][*]
That’s where a food journal comes in. With some consistency, a food scale, and a food journal, you can easily make tracking your intake a daily habit.
What Is a Food Journal?
A food journal is simply a way to track what you’re eating, and any other health-related metrics you’re interested in recording.
It can be as low or high-tech as you want it to be. For some people, a notebook might be the best option, but others may prefer an app.
Likewise, tracking can be as straightforward or as detailed as you’d like. Some people may need to keep a specific list of foods, while others may want to keep more detailed logs including, activity, water, sleep, mood, and more.
Benefits of Food Journaling
The reason that food journaling can be such a valuable tool is that it helps you understand your eating habits, keeps you accountable, and helps you identify problem foods.
Understanding your eating habits can help you plan for success. A food journal can show you if you’re over or undereating, when you’re giving in to cravings, and the types of foods you gravitate towards.
A food journal also keeps you accountable because, to be consistent, you need to track both the good days and bad days. This can give you an even deeper understanding of your eating habits.
Food journaling may also help you identify problem foods if you have any digestive issues or other issues that may be related to food. You can keep track of what foods you ate, when, and then the symptoms you experienced after eating those foods.
Likewise, food journaling may help you manage health conditions. For example, a person with type 2 diabetes may need to limit carbs to a set amount per meal. Tracking is a much easier and more accurate way to record this per-meal carb intake than estimating.
How to Use a Food Journal to Track What You Eat
So, how do you use a food journal? It’s really easy and shouldn’t take you any longer than 10-20 minutes per day. Here are the steps:
- Record what you eat, directly before or after you eat it. Whether you’re writing it down in a notebook or entering it into a tracker, it’s essential to record what you eat while it’s fresh in your mind. If you’re using a tracking app (like Carb Manager, for example), you can even record in advance or plan out future days so that you have a good idea of what and how much you’ll be eating. This is particularly helpful for situations like eating at a restaurant. You can review the menu in advance and track what you plan to order before you even arrive.
- Record any other metrics that are important to you. In addition to recording what you eat, there may be some other things you’re interested in tracking, depending on your health goals. For example, if you’re in recovery for disordered eating, you may want to track your mood throughout the day and particularly your mood around meal or snack times. If you’re trying to gain muscle, you may want to record meal timing, supplements, and workouts. For weight loss, you may want to track water intake and exercises. If you’re on an elimination diet, then you’ll want to track your symptoms and the timing of food reintroduction's. There are many different things you can record, it all just depends on your goals and the amount of time you want to invest into tracking each day.
- Repeat these steps each day. Research shows that the benefits of food journaling come with consistency. Try to use your food journal daily, or at least most days, to get the most benefit from it. One study found that people who recorded at least two meals per day lost the most weight after 6 months compared to people who tracked less consistently.[*]
- Review regularly for trends. Over time, you may notice trends in your food intake and the other metrics you choose to track. Food tracking apps can often generate reports to show your data in an organized, easy-to-read way. Carb Manager can generate an extensive number of reports, one for each metric that you are able to track using the app.
Food Journal Ideas: Top 6 Tips for Food Journaling
Need a few more tips? Here are our top 6.
- Use the method that works best for you: Although we are a food tracking app, we understand that some people may prefer pen and paper for their food journal. One study has even shown that a low-tech, paper-and-pencil food journal was helpful for people tracking their irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms.[*] Choosing a food journaling method that will work for you is KEY, whether it’s Carb Manager, a simple notebook, or a bullet journal complete with cute stickers and Washi tape decorations. You can even combine methods.
- Use a smartwatch: If you’re planning to track things like sleep and exercise, a smartwatch can be a really helpful tool to streamline your tracking. They can also give you loads of additional insights, like sleep quality, heart rate, and stress level. Carb Manager currently integrates with FitBit, Garmin, AppleHealth, Apple Watch, and Google Fit.
- Be detailed: If you’re trying to lose weight or using tracking to help identify food intolerances, it’s important to be as detailed as possible in your tracking. If you have a salad, be sure to record not only the salad greens but also the dressing, cheese, and other toppings (vegetables, croutons, bacon, etc.).
- Be honest: It may be tough, but you should try to be as honest as possible in your food journal — even if you mess up. Although it may seem pointless to record what you ate after you’ve overeaten or eaten something that’s not part of your diet, this information can be valuable. Make note of your mood or environment and see if there are any insights you can glean from your slip-up.
- Use a food scale: Although it’s not strictly necessary, using a food scale to weigh your food can help you track your food as accurately as possible. Weighing your food can be particularly helpful if you’ve recently hit a weight loss stall.
- Don’t jeopardize your mental health: People can have mixed feelings about food journaling.[*] It can provide lots of information and be beneficial for meeting your health goals, but if you find yourself feeling anxious or obsessing about your food journal, it may be time to step back for a bit.
Hopefully, this guide will help you feel motivated and empowered to keep your food journal going. And if you are still looking for a food journaling app, be sure to consider Carb Manager.
Carb Manager offers a comprehensive suite of tracking options, including a massive food database, recipe creator, barcode scanner, and recipes that can be added to your food journal with just one touch. Additionally, you can track various health-related metrics, like hydration, activity, weight and measurements, glucose, ketone levels, and more. Each daily log also contains a notes section where you can keep notes on your symptoms and mood.
We are here to help your food journaling be as effortless and effective as possible.