Whether you want to lose weight or manage an autoimmune disease, studies show keeping a food diary is one of the best ways to ensure success. For instance, diet research shows those who keep a food diary lose 30 to 50 percent more weight than those who don’t.
Keeping a food diary keeps you honest
It’s easy to think you are eating or behaving one way when the reality is strikingly different. Keeping track of everything you eat, portion sizes, and when you eat lifts the veil on bad habits you have managed to hide from yourself, such as how much sugar you really eat, how big your portions are, how frequently (or infrequently) you eat, or how often you eat a food you know causes problems for you.
Keeping a food diary for weight loss
One of the most popular reasons to keep a food diary is for weight loss. Most people underestimate portion sizes or how often they eat. Measuring the peanut butter or mayonnaise may show you’re eating much more than you thought.
Knowing you have to record everything is also great motivation to stick to your plan. That tantalizing dessert loses appeal when you see how those extra calories or grams of carbohydrates are going to kill your numbers at the end of the day. On the other hand, jotting down your exercise feels great.
It’s also good to tie in timing, location, and emotions with your meals. You may notice waiting too long between meals predisposes you to a binge, or that a particular person or situation increases your sugar cravings.
Keeping a food diary for health changes
Food diaries aren’t just for weight loss. Many people must make dramatic dietary changes to manage a chronic health condition. Autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, and rheumatoid arthritis all respond positively to changes in diet. Tracking both what you eat and your symptoms not only helps with compliance, but also can show you if any foods flare up your condition. For instance, you may be following a gluten-free and dairy-free diet but notice your health worsens when you eat eggs.
Keeping a food diary to find food intolerances
In fact, a food diary is an excellent tool for an elimination-provocation diet. These diets involve eliminating common dietary immune triggers such as grains (gluten in particular), dairy, eggs, soy, and sweeteners for a number of weeks. After the elimination period you add in each food one at a time every 48 to 72 hours and monitor your reactions.
Most people don’t realize they have a food intolerance because either they eat the food all the time or because reactions can happen up to 72 hours later. By removing the foods for a period of time and then introducing them singly, the immune system will typically produce a noticeable reaction if that food is an issue. It’s important to record symptoms as they appear. They can be very diverse and affect the skin, digestive tract, respiratory system, mood, mental function, joints, and more.
Ask Dr. Flannery about tips for keeping a food journal, weight loss, and implementing an elimination-provocation diet.