Food and Exercise Diaries

When I work with clients who wish to change their eating habits, I usually ask them to keep a food diary. Food diaries can be kept for any length of time, but for anyone committed to lifestyle modification a food diary becomes part of their daily routine. Research studies have demonstrated that people who track what they eat and when they exercise are more successful at sustaining long-term changes.

Food diaries have many purposes. Here are a few of their benefits for those of you trying to change your eating and exercise habits:

  • They identify food triggers such as times of day, circumstances, or people that trigger your eating.
  • They track calories so you'll know how many calories you eat in a day. Those handfuls of nuts or extra dressing really add up.
  • They reflect exercise. Note how much time you spend exercising and in other physically active or demanding pursuits. Household activities, such as vacuuming or gardening, can be beneficial even if they are not part of an exercise program.

If you want to start a diary, there are many possible formats and lots of free samples available online. Here are some things to remember for recordkeeping success:

  • Write it down NOW. Record as you eat it or do it. You won't remember everything if you wait until the end of the day.
  • Record your drinks. Beverages are frequently a source of hidden calories.
  • Track portion sizes. You won't always know the portion size, but make your best estimate or write a comparison. For individual items, record how many you ate (10 chips, 5 cookies).
  • Track what you are doing when you eat. You may find that watching TV or reading a book increases the amount you eat.
  • Record the extras. Gravy, dressings, cheese, and other toppings can really make the calories add up.