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Do Food Diaries Work? Research-Backed Tips to Maximise Success

In binge eating, Eating, impulsive overeating by Alex O'Toole

Do food diaries work? Personal trainers and nutritionists will often ask us to keep a food diary to track our diet. They can also be used as an on-going method to measure our nutrient or calorie intake over a period of time, but do they even work? Keeping a food diary might seem like a lot of effort, especially if you’re not used to doing it on a regular basis. So, it’s natural to be interested in how effective they are. You don’t want to put in all the effort of recording your eating habits, only to find that it’s not effective for your goals.

So in this article, we answer the question, do food diaries work? We look at their effect on weight loss and eating disorder management, along with some practical tips for using them successfully.

What is a Food Diary?

A food diary is a detailed daily record of the food and drinks we consume over a certain period of time. It’s typically kept as a way of tracking calorie consumption or identifying habitual eating patterns. In the past, food diaries were paper-based and either involves manually recording everything you consumed or ticking off the items on a pre-printed checklist. However, these days there are lots of smartphone apps and online tools that can be used a food diary. Some are even image-based so all you need to do is snap a photo of your meal instead of writing down all the ingredients.

Benefits of a Food Diary

Keeping a food diary can be beneficial for a number of reasons and in many different situations. The benefits of a food diary include;

  • Nutritional Needs – keeping a food diary will help highlight any imbalances or deficiencies in your diet.
  • Accountability – recording your food intake helps to improve accountability for your food habits.
  • Emotional Links – a food diary can also help you identify any links between eating and your emotions.
  • Goal Achievement – recording your food consumption instantly makes you more aware of what you eat, so depending on what your goal is it may help.

These benefits are all quite general, so now let’s drill down into questioning do food diaries work for specific situations…

Do Food Diaries Work for Weight Loss?

The short answer is: yes. Multiple scientific research studies have shown that food diaries can help people to successfully lose weight. In a comprehensive investigation of 22 research studies, a significant association between food diaries and weight loss was found consistently. Some studies have even found that keeping a food diary doubles the amount of weight people lose. However, in order for food diaries to be an effective weight loss tool, they need to be recorded frequently and accurately. In general, people who didn’t adhere to them consistently saw little or no weight loss.

Do Food Diaries Work for Eating Disorders?

Food diaries are often used in the treatment of eating disorders. They’re a proven tool in the recovery of patients and recognition of disordered behaviours. In this situation, keeping a food diary can help to identify what triggered a disordered eating episode, what was consumed, what the person was thinking about or feeling at the time. From this information it’s possible to draw helpful conclusions about the triggers of binging or disordered eating episodes, so you can then work to address them.

How to Keep A Food Diary – Tips To Maximise Success

The key to successfully keeping a food diary is to be absolutely honest with yourself. Record everything you consume, even if you don’t want to. For some people, confronting their eating habits can be an uncomfortable experience. But if you don’t keep an accurate diary that includes absolutely everything you eat.

Make it part of your eating routine so that you record your food as soon as you consume it. This makes your food diary more accurate and you’re less likely to forget things you’ve eaten. It can be helpful to have visual prompts that remind you to complete it. Leaving the diary on the table or another place you eat or sticking notes to the fridge can both be helpful.

Do Food Diaries Work – Summary

Food diaries can be an effective tool for the treatment of disordered eating behaviours as well as healthy weight loss. They are one of the key strategies we teach in our Beat The Binge Online Program, which teaches you how to manage binge eating and regain control over your impulsive behaviours. By recording your food consumption, activities, and emotions, you’re able to identify the triggers that start things off in the first place. You’re then able to build on this knowledge to develop management strategies that address binge eating behaviour. Learn more about the program here.