Dear Food Diary...

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Posted by Meeta K. Wolff


"You are what you eat". We hear this maxim so often that it sounds tired and cliched. In any case, it is something I occasionally say to myself in an effort to move towards a better diet. This month I tried something a little different. For a week, I kept a food diary.

A food diary or a food journal is simply a detailed record of what a person eats. For a period of time, one has to jot down *everything* that crosses the lips. The purpose of keeping a food diary is not to become obsessive about food or calorie-counting. It is quite the opposite- it helps a person to  truthfully evaluate their current food habits and realize where there is room for improvement, and where they are doing quite well. This can help to maintain and reinforce all the positive habits we have already acquired, and to take small steps towards changing some of the more unhealthy ones.

Keeping a food diary requires only a small notebook and a pen, but you need to hang on to these and take them everywhere with you (trust me, it is all too easy to forget the little things we munch on throughout the day). The minimum details that need to be entered into the food diary are, of course, the food (what did you eat and how much of it you ate) and the time of day when you ate it. In addition, certain other details can be very useful too, such as mood (eg. to determine if you tend to eat certain types of food when you are bored or tired or unhappy), or noting whether you were alone or with someone else, and your activity (eg. whether you eat while driving or watching TV or working at your desk). All of this reveals patterns of eating that we practice consciously or unconsciously. It is important to be brutally honest while writing this information down (I was overcome by remorse when I had to write down that I had eaten half a big bag of tortilla chips in one sitting!) and to include beverages and not just solid food (know how many calories there are in that grande frappachino?). A food diary can be kept for as short as 2-3 days or as long as one likes. I thought that a whole week was ideal, because it covered weekdays and weekends and was more representative of my typical eating habits. Nutritionists often suggest keeping a food diary for a few days, making small diet changes if necessary, and then perhaps keeping a food diary again a few months down the line to get an idea of dietary improvements.

It was an interesting experience to keep a food diary. It was easy for me to see at a glance what I am doing right and where there is room for improvement. I could clearly see my snack-attack moments- the fact that mid-mornings and mid-evenings were woefully littered with junk food. Little moments of snacking added up to a startling amount of my daily food intake. On the other hand, my main meals are quite healthful and full of vegetables. I tend to eat when I am bored and when I am watching TV, but not when I am reading or at the computer. I very rarely eat desserts with the exception of needing something sweet to dunk into my tea. I eat very little fruit. Since keeping the food diary, I have put some small changes in place. After all, what is the point of spending a lot of time and effort cooking nutritious meals if you are going to throw it all away by eating so much junk food? I won't ever stop eating chips and stuff like cheez-its (those addictive snack crackers) because I love these foods too much (and don't see the need to banish them altogether) but now I take the time to enjoy them instead of gobbling them down ravenously. I dole out a portion into a small bowl and savour every bite (no more eating out of the bag). You know how parents of small children go around with little bags and boxes of snacks? Now I do the same! I carry portions of snack foods with me everywhere- fruit leather, dry fruits, roasted nuts, or chivda (a spicy snack) made with cereal.  It feels good to slowly let go of the baggage of habits that were doing me no good.

If you want to see an extreme example of a food diary, take a look at the book "Everything I ate: A year in the life of my mouth" where Tucker Shaw has documented and photographed *everything* he ate during 2004. He eats a lot more junk food than I do! We don't have to go that far. My personal goal is a simple one- to be a mindful eater. A food diary is just a simple tool to help me get there. 

Are you interested in contributing to The Daily Tiffin? Drop us an email: We look forward to hearing your ideas.

This Post was written by Nupur from One Hot Stove


What an interesting idea!! I'm to afraid to write down everything that passes through my lips and even more afraid of reading it later...!!!

Dharm said...
February 27, 2008 at 12:49:00 PM GMT+1  

that is a good idea, Nupur!
I read about the celebrity chef who documented all the food he "taste tested" for a single day and he could not believe the amount of calories he ingested, he revised his testing measures since & lost a lot many pounds!

Richa said...
February 27, 2008 at 3:38:00 PM GMT+1  

I maintained a food diary couple of years ago and it really helped me streamline my food habits. I ended up losing a few pounds too. When you know you have to write down what you eat (and more so, if you are sharing the journal with a friend), you become more conscious on what you put in your mouth.

Anonymous said...
February 27, 2008 at 6:48:00 PM GMT+1  

Great idea, thanks for sharing it. We could all benefit from a food diary every now and then.

Meg Wolff said...
February 27, 2008 at 7:06:00 PM GMT+1  

When I had joined a gym in India, we had to keep a food diary and show it every day when we went to the gym. And it was embarassing to show it especailly when it had entries like samosa, or sev puri.

vimmi said...
February 27, 2008 at 8:56:00 PM GMT+1  

Food diary sounds like a positive step toward a better you. But, 'No cheating' you say..hmm.

Suganya said...
February 27, 2008 at 11:30:00 PM GMT+1  

Dharm, LOL I know exactly what you mean. It is an eye-opening experience to see in black and white all the stuff we gorge on during every single day!

Richa, :D sure, those little bites and tiny tastes are the true culprits! Thanks for sharing that little anecdote!

A-Kay, great to know that a food diary worked for you! I think it has definitely made me more aware but I don't know about losing those pounds :D Studies have shown that food diaries improve most people's food habits.

Meg, I agree...I think it is a simple thing to do and can only help.

Vimmi, now that is something that I would find quite awkward...having to share something as personal as a food diary with a stranger. After all, we are all grown-ups who can make choices for ourselves :) Also, in my book, it is not the divine samosas and sev puris that are the culprit but how often they are eaten and in what quantity.

Suganya, yes, my dear! "No cheating" (imagine your favorite schoolteacher's voice, and a stern finger wagging at you) :D

Nupur said...
February 28, 2008 at 12:07:00 PM GMT+1  

You know I support this move whole heartedly! I think it is important to keep a one week log every 2-3 months or so if you are not on a strict weight loss plan. Very well written!

Helene said...
February 28, 2008 at 7:35:00 PM GMT+1  

Nupur, favorite is easy to visualize. But schoolteacher and stern and wagging finger are not. Cos I see you and not the image you painted. :-)

This is yet another useful and valuable post. A friend and I had started a private blog to egg each other on through our exercise and food routines. It fizzled out as we both had too much going on in our lives in the past couple of months but we managed to maintain some semblance of healthy eating and exercise. I missed only one week but made up for it by snowshoeing or at least that is how I console myself! I really should go back to it as it helped in more ways than one: you have cheerleader by your side (well, virtually anyway!), you can monitor your progress over a period, you figure out where you need to make changes, and what makes you slack off. Your post has made me want to go back and revive it. Today!

I believe in moderation and so while weight loss doesn't come easily, living healthy does. If that makes any sense! :-D

February 28, 2008 at 11:22:00 PM GMT+1  

Tartelette, I am glad you agree, as a fitness professional! For me, a food diary is much preferable to a regimented diet, and I am sure it is that way for many others too.

Nupur said...
February 29, 2008 at 1:34:00 PM GMT+1  

Manisha, I completely agree with you: weight loss does not come easily but healthy living, changing habits one at a time, is easy if done slowly and steadily. It is great that you have a buddy to be your partner in health. A private blog is a great idea for communication and monitoring, even allowing friends who live far apart to stay in close touch and work out "together"!

Nupur said...
February 29, 2008 at 1:38:00 PM GMT+1  

I have often tried but somehow always throw in the towel. But I think doing it for a week would be good. I really have improved my eating habits but I know there are a few things that should not be written down.

Encouraging post!

Meeta K. Wolff said...
March 7, 2008 at 9:16:00 PM GMT+1  

I've done this a couple of times for fairly short periods - but usually because I was trying to track calories. It is really interesting as you say, and I think with me just the effort to log everything affects what I eat. The fewer entries you have to make the easier it is to keep the diary! :)

Cathy said...
March 17, 2008 at 3:10:00 AM GMT+1  

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