Keep a Food Journal

Writing down the foods you eat during the day is a proven method to promote weight loss and to help keep the weight off. It is a simple procedure that can help you understand your eating habits and target problem areas you may have. It is important to be honest with yourself when recording food items and amounts. The food journal can act like a mirror by revealing to you what goes into your body. It can be a very useful tool if done properly.

This handout will explain how to keep an accurate food log to increase your awareness of foods eaten throughout the day.

Find a notebook. Any kind of notebook or diary will work to record food items. If you prefer electronic devices, feel free to use a laptop computer or hand-held Palm Pilot. Many websites offer food journal capabilities with nutrient analysis (for free or fee). A free website for tracking what you eat is available at

Organize the content of your journal. Create spaces to record the date, time, place, food items eaten, quantity of food and beverages eaten, feelings while eating, and physical activity. These are all important items to include in a food journal so that eating patterns can be detected.

Open the journal and record food items into the journal as you eat them. Be as specific as possible and only record one item at a time. Instead of only writing “turkey sandwich,” it is important to break the meal down and include each food item. For example, if you had a turkey sandwich, define what was in it: whole wheat bread, light mayonnaise, mustard, sliced deli turkey meat, pickle, tomato, low-fat cheddar cheese.

Date, time, and place of food eaten should be recorded. By logging the time of eating, you may find a pattern of overeating or undereating during specific periods throughout the day. This can help you to be more aware of your eating routine. The place where food is eaten is equally important. Some people may eat more while dining out, and others tend to eat more at home. Are you eating in bed or in the car? Eating while reading? Eating while watching television? If you keep a record of where food is eaten, it can help teach you about your eating habits.

Jot down your feelings and hunger level each time you eat. Some examples may include: happy, bored, nervous, rushed, tired, depressed, angry, excited, content, or frustrated. Hunger level is good to monitor because many people eat for other reasons besides true hunger. This will help you to understand the meaning behind why you eat and snack.

Openly record quantity of food. By keeping track of the amounts of food eaten, this can help you to be more aware of your serving sizes. For example, with the turkey sandwich discussed earlier, define amounts: whole wheat bread - 2 slices, light mayonnaise - 1 teaspoon, mustard - 1 teaspoon, sliced deli turkey meat, 2 ounces, dill pickle - ½ large, tomato - 2 medium slices, low-fat cheddar cheese - 1 ounce. To get accurate weights, consider using a food scale when you are at home.

Use the journal for beverages, too. All drinks during the day should be recorded. Some beverages are higher in calories than others, and this can help you be more aware of how many calories you get from your drinks, as well as food associated with certain beverages. Do you only munch on peanuts while drinking beer? Only drink milk when you eat cookies?

Record physical activity. The new dietary guidelines recommend 60-90 minutes of moderate activity daily to sustain weight loss. Keep track of what type of activity you did for the day, and how much time it took you to do it.

Notice any patterns yet to your eating? We often eat the same foods over a course of two to three weeks. Make sure you include weekends and weekdays. You may eat differently on days off than other days.

Analyze your food journal. After you have kept food records for a length of time, look through the notebook to find eating patterns. Are you including a variety of foods? Consider making an appointment with a registered dietitian (RD), who can help to find problem areas and work with you to make healthier choices and gradual changes.

Lean on the positive side. Approach the food journal with an optimistic attitude and high spirits. Make an effort to see something positive in every day. Feel free to note it into the journal. Some examples of positive experiences include: “I ate smaller portions today,” “I fit into a pair of pants I couldn't wear last year,” “I stopped eating when I was full,” or “I was able to exercise for 30 minutes instead of 25.” This may seem like it doesn't matter, but it will help you to give yourself a pat on the back and keep a positive outlook.

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 10/30/2006...#13372