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8 Steps for Food Diary Success

Here are some tips from the experts on how to make a food diary work for you.

Food Diary Tip No. 1: Know Your Reasons

If you know what you hope to gain from your food diary, you can make sure you're recording the type of information that will help you in that area. Fletcher advises people to be clear about their intent, whether it’s to become aware of hidden food triggers, notice problematic eating patterns, or just make sure they're eating a healthy diet.

Food Diary Tip No. 2: Choose Your Format

Kerri Anne Hawkins, MS, RD, a dietitian with Tufts Medical Center's Obesity Consultation Center, uses several types of food diary forms for her patients. She tells them to fill out just what works for them; they can even create their own system, like using sticky notes.

"The basic elements I would recommend including, however, would be time, food, amount/portion size and degree of hunger," says Hawkins.

Rebecca Puhl, PhD, director of research at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, also suggests including the location of the meal: "These details will provide insight into emotional triggers for eating habits, as well as times of day and places where healthy and unhealthy foods are most likely to be consumed."

If you're trying to understand how your emotions relate to your food choices, you might also want to include questions in your diary such as, "How hungry am I?" or "What were my emotions before, during and after the eating episode?"

Keeping track of carbs, fat, and fiber grams will be helpful for people with diabetes and other medical conditions. If you have type 2 diabetes, you might find, for example, that meals high in carbohydrates or meals high in saturated fat may cause you trouble. Or you might discover that your blood sugar levels improve when your meal or snack contains a certain amount of fiber.

Write down other items you think are important, such as how you felt (physically and emotionally) when you finished eating, what and how much exercise you got that day, any medication you took, and your blood sugar results, if you have diabetes.

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