September is usually the month we decide to set a few goals. Many of us start following a more balanced diet again and a specific exercise routine, too. If you want or have already set such goals for yourself, one way to achieve them is to start keeping a food diary that also includes the physical activity you do every day. But do you know why we should keep notes of what foods we eat, how much, and at what time of day? The reasons are plenty and I will mention them below.
Keeping a food diary helps to:
1. Better control what we consume every day.
There are times when we think that all the meals we have eaten during the day or the week are very healthy. However, we do not lose as much weight as we think we should under normal circumstances. If there is no other health problem that causes less or no weight loss, then maybe what we consume may not be as balanced as we think. By keeping a food diary, we will be able to observe the entire week as well as the products, foods, and recipes we have consumed and therefore see the whole picture.
2. Improve what we do not do so well.
By looking at what we consumed during the week, we can keep those things we did right and correct our not-so-good and balanced habits. For example, we can check the labels of the products we consumed and swap them with healthier alternatives, if needed. Moreover, the diary will help us check the quantities we consumed and -if necessary- reduce them or change the food combinations. We can also improve the recipes we make, adding the corresponding healthier ones to our diet. We can even improve the meals we are eating out, when we go to a restaurant or when we want to eat a ready-made meal.
3. Establish healthier habits.
Keeping a food diary helps us set clearer goals in the long run, as well as better organize our meals. For example, we can organize our schedule so that we consume 1 to 2 times meat, 1 to 2 times fish, and the rest should be legumes, dairy, starchy vegetables and eggs during the week. If we see that this is not easy to achieve from the very first week, then we can make small changes per week until we achieve the most balanced schedule that is easier and more enjoyable for our daily life as well. So, by checking our food diary, we can increase the consumption of vegetables a lot during the week, as well as make more balanced meals -i.e. meals that contain lean protein, complex carbs, and good fats. At first, this may not happen so often but slowly, by taking notes and getting feedback from our diary, we will establish healthier habits.
4. Check how certain foods affect our emotions.
Strange as it may seem, our emotions can be affected by what we eat, just like the way we are feeling can affect the total amount of food we consume or the hours we eat during the day (e.g. very late at night). In fact, by taking notes on what we eat, we will be able to understand why when we eat foods high in fat, saturated or trans fats, sugars, and salt, we often feel hungry in a shorter period of time, and why we may have sudden mood swings or greater irritation within the day. So, it is worth noting down our emotions next to each meal, and consuming foods rich in fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals, to see how our body responds to the more nutritious alternatives.
5. Set SMART goals.
What do I mean by that? A SMART goal means that it is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-based. For example, if you conclude from the diary that you do not eat more than one salad a day, then the general goal is to eat more salads and a greater variety of vegetables a day. The SMART goal in this case is to eat 2 salads (1 with lunch, 1 with dinner) and at least 3 to 5 different vegetables during the day (either by adding a variety of veggies to your salad or by eating them as a snack during the day).
6. Better control the water we consume and the exercise we do.
By noting down -in the food diary- the amount of water we drink and the exercise we do daily or during the week, we will be able to increase both water consumption and the duration of exercise. In fact, by comparing our progress over time, we will be able to see our improvement or why we may not be improving in one of these two areas.
So, it seems that when we write what we consume in detail, it can help us reduce or maintain a balanced weight and achieve a healthier diet and lifestyle. In addition, by doing that for a long time, we will be able to see the benefits, as well as all the overall changes we have made in our diet, as well as how our body has responded to all this. Certainly, the contribution of an expert in all this can help us even more and guide-encourage us accordingly. In any case, the food diary is definitely something worth trying!
This article was written in collaboration with the scientific advisor-sports nutritionist Anna Maria Volanaki, MSc, BDA, SENr, INDI.
The website akispetretzikis.com offers as a service a variety of articles, based on scientific sources. All the articles are provided as general information and no text should be used as a substitute for advice from a physician or another health scientist, regardless of the date it has been published.