How to keep a food diary

Simon Hemelryk / 19 October 2016

Whether you want to lose weight or find out if your health problems are caused by a gluten or lactose intolerance, maintaining a food diary can help.



Choose your format

You can write you diary in a jotter – providing there’s plenty of space for detailed notes - download sample pages from websites or even use an online tracking device.

This NHS food diary is a good start

Be comprehensive

Make sure you write down everything you eat during the day, no mater how small. Even that Malteser your colleague gave you at 11am needs to be recorded.

Avoid vague descriptions, such as  ‘a cheese baguette’. What else was in it? Lettuce? Tomatoes? Salad cream? What exactly did that beef stew you had for dinner contain?

Include any drinks you may have had, including water, to keep on top of fluid and sugar intake.

Write things down as they happen. Don’t try and remember everything you ate, later in the day. You’ll probably forget something.

Use accurate measurements

Don’t guess how much of each food type you’ve consumed. Employ measuring jugs, scales or bowls that hold a specific volume. You’ll be less likely to underestimate how much you’ve eaten. You may have to make estimates when eating out, however.

If you’re hoping to lose weight, record calories. You can find out certain foods’ calorie content online, or use an app.

Where did you eat?

It sounds odd, but you may that find that, without realising it, you’re consuming a lot while commuting in the car, slumped in front of the TV or when you’re sat in front of the computer at work. This kind of unconscious grazing may really increase your overall food intake or the amount of unhealthy nibbles you consume.

Where did you eat?

If you write down precise timings – ‘ate bacon butty at 12.25’, rather than ‘…at lunchtime’ –  you’ll spot patterns in your eating. It may be that your meals are too far apart - too many late suppers, perhaps - causing you to snack in between.

Record your emotions

Note down how you feel before and after eating. You may discover that you have a packet of crisps or a doughnut when you’re bored or stressed, so you’ll know to watch out for that in the future.

If a biscuit or glass of wine makes you feel happier, but you have rather too much of both, you might want to look for other ways of brightening your mood.

How do you feel physically?

Write down any symptoms, such as bloating, wind, fatigue or nausea, you may experience. This can help you build up an idea of which foods may be causing them, and whether you have a gluten intolerance, say, or are allergic to some other type of food. But don’t self-diagnose. If you suspect you have a condition, go to your doctor for further analysis or testing.

To read our great article on the myths surrounding gluten intolerance, see the new-look November issue of Saga Magazine .

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.