Keeping a Food Diary Can Improve Your Health—so Long as It’s Not About Counting Calories

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Written By Paklay Zablay

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One of the most effective well-being tips I’ve picked up from my time working with nutritionists and other health experts is super simple: Keeping a food diary. But not in a way that focuses on how much you’re eating or caloric intake, as this isn’t about that at all.

Instead, the idea is that healthy habits don’t need to be huge. Whether it’s getting off the Tube a stop early to walk (good for all-round health) or ensuring you get enough light in the mornings (improves your sleep, mood and focus), sometimes small, simple things can make a big difference to our lifestyle. Such is the case with keeping a food diary, which can pay dividends when it comes to maintaining a balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle, and practicing mindfulness over all.

The benefits of keeping a food diary

Pay a visit to any health expert and they will almost certainly ask you keep a comprehensive food diary for a couple of weeks. The idea is to write down everything you consume – food and drinks – and ideally the emotions you experience each day, too. “It can provide invaluable information about how your food may be affecting your mood, metabolism, energy and more,” explains Rhian Stephenson, nutritionist, naturopath and founder of Artah, who points out that the process is not – I repeat, not – about tracking calories.

Instead, it’s a great tool to help you “identify obstacles that may be preventing you from hitting your health goals, learning about eating behaviours that may be sabotaging your progress and to check in on important nutritional parameters like fibre, protein, sugar and more”.

Eating a diverse array of plants is now widely acknowledged as an important health goal, and a food diary helps you to grasp how many fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, nuts, seeds and whole grains (for example) you are ingesting each day. Not to mention the fact that it also helps you ensure you’re eating adequate protein and fibre – both of which are good for gut health and overall wellbeing.

As someone who tends to forget what she’s consumed (especially the foods that aren’t so great for my health, funnily enough), keeping a food diary ensures I stay mindful and aware of what I’m eating. In my experience, it’s really easy to think you’re eating a healthy, balanced diet, when in reality you might not be, so it’s a good way to confront your daily consumption in black and white.

What to observe through your food diary

It doesn’t have to be any more complicated than simply writing down what you’ve consumed, but identifying any patterns that might emerge is where the magic really happens. Here are some things Stephenson, as a nutritionist, always looks out for:

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