Food Diary: The complete guide to monitoring your food intake

If you’re interested in slimming down and you’ve ever been on a mainstream diet you’ve probably taken a shot at recording your calorie intake with a food diary. Whether you’re using an app or paper based diary the aim of this guide is to try to get very specific and accurate with that recording.

Why keep a food diary

To aid slimming you may need to make improvements to the calories you’re eating. It’s pretty well documented that we’re not great at guessing portion sizes. What’s worse it would appear there is some evidence to suggest that there is a compounding effect, meaning that the larger food portions we expose ourselves to, the larger we class as normal, and so we expose ourselves to bigger portions in a cycle. The possible effect of this is that over time the portion size we class as normal creeps up and up without us really noticing.

There is also some evidence to suggest that when people accurately record their intake their calorie consumption naturally decreases without any additional effort.

Add to this the fact that pretty much every diet and nutrition plan out there requires you to log your food intake in one way or another and it’s clear why being able to this in a structured and accurate way is a skill that will be useful throughout your health and fitness journey.

How do I do it

First of all you’ll need to get a set of kitchen scales. You don’t need to break the bank with these, my own personal preference are digital for accuracy but if you have another preference that’s fine as well. I guess the most important thing is they should be compact and light enough that they can be kept close by and taken out and used whenever you are prepping a meal.

Next is your method of recording. You can do this either digitally with a smartphone or website or by using pen and paper. If pen and paper is the way you would like to go could I suggest you buy a dedicated food diary. This way you can keep all of your notes safe and in one place.

If you feel comfortable enough I would definitely recommend using an app to track your food. First of all you get a far more in depth analysis and secondly because once you have been using them for a while they store your most used foods. This saves you a lot of time.

My preferred method of recording calories is MyFitnessPal. It is an app and a website so you can always upload on the go, you can scan bar-codes of items and download reports. All of the information contained within my Progress Reports is recorded using this tracker. What’s even better, it’s free.

Once you have your scales and your method of recording all sorted it’s time to actually do the work. Every meal, every snack, everything you eat I want you to log and keep track of. This means weighing out everything beforehand to ensure you’re being as accurate as possible. Below are a few tips that I and others have found useful:

  • Meal prep – It is so much easier to record the calories you eat if you prep your meals in advance. Set a day of the week that works for you, find some recipes and get cooking.
  • Track as you go – It can be very difficult to try to remember everything you’ve eaten at the end of the day, particularly if you’ve been busy. To that end I find it useful to enter my calories as I go along. Or…
  • Pre-record your day – I find this is very helpful as I tend to know what food I’m likely to be having in advance the night before. My breakfast is pretty much the same and my lunch is generally one of a few meals. This way I just need to enter my evening meal on the day and I’m done.
  • Save recipes – This is one for the app users. I have a whole bunch of saved meals that I can add in seconds to my tracker. Its definitely worth saving your favourite recipes in advance to save time later.

Using a food diary

You have chosen a nutrition tracker and committed to record the food you are eating at every meal. Every week you can look back over your food diary and set and track your calorie goals. Which in turn will support your health, weight loss and slimming goals. To do this try to make small improvements, first to the quality of the calories you’re consuming and eventually the quantity.

Finally, if you found this post useful you might like to take a look at our free Healthy Habits For Beginners Course. This course not only covers food diaries but also all the other habits we feel are the key foundations for building a healthy lifestyle.