Should you keep an Online Food Diary? This is a very controversial subject depending on the relationship you have with food, body image, and the scale. In this post we’ll break down the pros and cons of keeping an online food dairy as well as who could potentially benefit from this, and who should NOT consider this. There is no one size fits all approach!
Do you feel like you are always looking for ways to improve your health and create better habits? If so, you’ve come to the right place!
Setting health goals that include increasing exercise, eating healthier, or maybe setting aside time for self-care like meditation, can help with motivating you to stay on course. One way many clients of mine have found accountability in achieving these goals is through using an online food diary.
These tools can help you organize and keep track of your nutrition, fitness, and motivation.
In the realm of starting new healthy habits, keeping a food diary can be a great start! After I looked at the evidence-based research, I have sorted it out for you so that you will be able to determine if this task is a good fit.
It may sound daunting or tedious, but research shows that people interested in losing weight can lose twice as much when keeping a food journal in comparison to those who don’t. Sounds appealing, right?
What is a Food Diary
Let’s get started with the basics. A food diary is a place to track your food and reflect on your nutrition. It can help you gain an understanding of how much and what you are eating.
The key to journaling is accuracy.
People often underreport how much they are eating, giving them a false sense of how much they are actually intaking. Research has shown some pros and cons to this method, which means it’s not the end-all, be-all to starting a healthy lifestyle.
But, to know if it could be a good fit for you we’ll have to dive deeper into what the research has to say about keeping a food diary.
Benefits of a Food Diary
A food diary is a beneficial habit to start to help achieve your goals. Some benefits to keeping a food diary are to:
- Attain weight loss
- Make healthier food choices
- Detect allergens/deficiencies
- Detect food triggers
By keeping track of your food with a food diary it may help settle any unhealthy habits that you’ve been trying to break. For example, unnecessary snacking due to boredom.
Logging your intakes can give you a moment to take a step back and check in with yourself to see if you are actually hungry.
Once you have a nutrition or caloric goal that you want to accomplish for the day, you will be less likely to overeat.
Your goal could be to lessen your caloric intake or simply be not wanting to write down that you consumed four servings of chips again (no judgment here, but we are working to break those habits!)
To attain better nutritional habits it is good to look at physical triggers that lead to common food habits. Environmental stressors play an important role in food choices.
By jotting down what you ate in you online food diary during a stressful time, or in an emotional state, you will begin to notice a pattern on how that may lead to poor eating behaviors.
Keeping track of the place and time that you’re consuming a meal will help regulate eating habits. Also, you can determine what environments leads you to making healthier decisions.
Ever feel like some days you are extra bloated, your skins acting up, or your tummy tends to hurt, but you can’t figure out the cause? Food journaling may help you identify what is causing these symptoms!
Once noted you can try eliminating this food with the help of a dietitian from your diet temporarily and note any noticeable differences.
Who Should Consider Using a Food Diary
If you have a healthy relationship with food and your body (i.e. do not obsess over intrusive thoughts related to food, body image, or the scale), then an online food diary could be a great asset for you!
Specifically, someone who does not have an eating disorder, or someone without disordered eating tendencies or thoughts but wants to improve their health and nutrition.
Who Should NOT Use a Food Diary
Individuals who struggle with obsessive thoughts around food, body image, and/or the scale. People who have a diagnosed eating disorder or eating disorder tendencies should also not consider starting an online food diary.
Cons of a Food Diary
Research has shown shame, judgment, or obsession associated with food journaling. Some people reported they felt they should avoid social events because of the unknown ingredients they would not be able to track.
Although the beauty of this method is that it doesn’t have to be long-term, it can feel daunting and challenging to fit in (even if done electronically) in an already busy schedule.
Though studies have validated that participants show significant changes in weight loss over a long period of time after tracking for only 9-months, it still may not be the right fit for you.
If you do want to give it a try, set a goal for 7 days. Carve out time before or right after you eat to quickly insert your meals. I promise, this can go a LONG way to help reach your goals. Plus, an online food diary or app makes the process much faster than traditional handwritten pen and paper.
How to start a Food Diary
Now that we have an understanding, does food journaling seem like the right fit for you? Traditionally you can get out pen and paper, but studies have reported that an electronic journal is found to be much more efficient.
To begin, you must be specific! I’m talking down to the brand type, serving size, preparation method (oils, salt, etc.), and any sauces you ate with it. Note the time you are consuming meals, this will help if trying to cut out late-night snacking habits.
Most importantly, this is YOUR journal you can add any emotions you feel after or during the meal, or just use it simply for calorie counting.
- Use an online source or app
- Be sure to include liquids as well (calories from these sources can be quick to add up)
- Set SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-based)
Food journaling may not be the “thing” for you especially if you start to gain negative emotions around it. But, knowing the pros and cons of the process helps decipher if it sounds like a good fit for your lifestyle.
The great part of a food diary is that you don’t have to track calories. It can be for your own awareness. For example, trying to get in more vegetables a day or to end the cycle of late-night snacking. A food diary is a place to put down this information, track emotions to the food, and start working to achieve those goals.
Adding calorie tracking may or may not work for you but is by no means necessary for you to lose weight. Mood, location, and time of day should all be included in your journal to note triggers to your unhealthy habits.
Find some time to sit down and try an online food diary to see if this could be your new healthy habit!