Benefits of Using a Food Diary

Personally I’m not a huge fan of keeping a food diary because I suck at keeping up with them. However, I do believe they are a positive and useful tool in tracking intake and identifying nutrition problems.

There are several benefits to keeping a food diary, but the main benefit is to manage weight loss, weight maintenance, or weight gain. To do this you will need to:

  • Figure out your calorie needs to either lose, maintain, or gain weight.
  • Record everything you eat and drink. Everything!
    • Measure the foods you prepare at home by using measuring cups, spoons, and a food scale. 
      • Soon you will learn how to “eyeball” serving sizes.
        • Once a week, measure everything for a day to brush up on serving sizes
    • Estimate calories when eating out and choose wisely. I use the exchange list that is commonly used by diabetics to estimate calories. Keep in mind this is only an estimate.

The picture is the exchange list and below that are the food group serving sizes you would use with the exchange list. Keep in mind foods that have use a combination of food groups. 

photo 1

  • 1/2 cup of cooked cereal, grain, or starchy vegetable
  • 1/3 cup of cooked rice or pasta
  • 1 oz of bread
  • 3/4 to 1 oz of snack foods, such as chips (some snacks also contain fat)
  • 1 small (4 oz) fresh fruit
  • 1/2 cup fruit juice
  • 1/4 cup dried fruit
  • 1 cup
Non-starch vegetable
  • 1/2 cup cooked vegetables or vegetable juice
  • 1 cup raw vegetables
Meat and Meat Substitutes
  • 1 oz of meat, fish, poultry, or cheese
  • 1/2 cup of beans, peas, or lentils
  • 1 teaspoon of regular margarine or vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon of regular salad dressing

After a week or two, you will begin to memorize the nutrients in foods you commonly eat.

Helps recognize plateaus and patterns

A food diary will help identify foods or serving size increases or decreases. Remember everything counts. A food diary allows you to critically review what you are eating and how it is effecting your goals. 

Identify foods that might be causing health related problems not associated with weight.

A food diary is useful to identify foods that are causing health issues such as an upset stomach, pain, diarrhea, constipation, and inflammation. Perhaps you noticed you always have pain and nausea after dinner. By recording you meals, you can look in your diary and figure out the root cause then eliminate it from your diet.
It is also useful in identifying allergies by using an elimination diet. This is where you would eliminate foods most common with allergies from your diet. Once the inflammation passes, you would slowly add one of the foods back into your diet and record the effect it has on your body. You would do this until you figured out the offending food.
For example, my friend’s hair started falling out in clumps and her skin was cracking and bleeding. Her doctor put her on an elimination diet and determined she is allergic to gluten and lactose. I have another friend that gets a red itchy area on her stomach. She stopped eating gluten and it went away. Now every time she eats gluten the itchy patch comes back.

Identify foods causing fatigue and reasons for low energy

Many people feel fatigue after eating large amounts of carbohydrates. Having a food diary would identify those foods and the time of day the fatigue sets in.
Low energy is usually the result of not eating enough. Many people feel this way if they skip breakfast or work out on an empty stomach. Eating something small will help with low energy. Having a food diary will show where the calories can be rearrange to accommodate for the small meal.


I prefer the pen and paper route to keeping a food diary, but I also love the database and ease of using the myfitnesspal app on my phone. I’m more likely to stick with a food diary if it is staring at me all day in a notebook than if it is hidden on my phone.
There is no right or wrong method to keeping a food diary as long as you record the time of day, the food and drink, and its serving size. If you are keeping one for weight management then at least record the calories consumed. If you want to get more detailed, record the nutrient grams.

Overall, a food diary will help:
  • Manage weight
  • Track progress and improve motivation
  • Identify plateaus and patterns
  • Identify foods causing health problems
  • Accountability and improve will power

The food exchange list came from Exchange List For Meal Planning written by the American Diabetes Association and the American Dietetic Association 2003.


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