Food Journaling: the simple habit that can transform your health


In this article, we'll talk about keeping a food journal. What is a food journal? And how do you incorporate the food journal into your routine?

Table of contents

Do you really know what you are eating and drinking each day?

We spend so much of our lives doing things automatically that most people are shocked when they begin to write a food journal.

As with exercise, food journaling can have amazing benefits if you turn it into a habit.

In a study of keystone habits, James Prochaska, a University of Rhode Island researcher, found that individuals who made a habit of carrying a food journal and noting what they ate had some truly unexpected results. They began to make healthier food choices.

They recognized instances where they could avoid snacking on unhealthy foods by planning for snack times in advance. Furthermore, they began to plan healthier dinners and these advantages spilled over into other areas of their lives.

Like exercise, learning to record what you eat makes you aware of eating habits, patterns, and triggers. On a conscious and subconscious level, this will lead to you making better choices. You will begin to eat better, your health will improve, you will sleep better, and your mood will improve.

There are many good reasons why food journaling is important:

Food journaling helps to trigger memory

The brain is an amazing organ, and the memory is designed to record events and occurrences. Sadly, the conscious memory only notes the conscious events that occur. Since eating is often an unconscious habit, chances are that your memory of what you ate will be inaccurate.

Remember to make notes about what you ate, as well as keep a record of the portions. Don’t be afraid of being honest. No one else is going to read your journal, and the more honest you are, the more you can begin to recognize patterns in your life. (Do you eat when you are stressed? Bored? Angry? Happy?) By making notes of your intake, you can begin to take responsibility for your eating habits.

The small habit of making notes before you eat, while you are waiting for your food to arrive, for example, also gives you an opportunity to think before you eat.

Since much of what we eat and drink each day is done on an unconscious basis, this small habit can help you really realize what you are eating and whether you actually want to eat that particular snack or meal.

Food journaling can help you recognize patterns

A lot of what we eat every day is habitual. You do not realize how many cups of coffee you drink or how much you really snack, until you sit down with a pen and paper and actually make notes.

If you had to list what you have eaten today, then chances are you could name a few things. However, if you begin to really think about it and make a list, you may be surprised by the results.

The truth is that a lot of what we eat every day is habitual. I was horrified to find that I was consuming more than six cups of coffee a day, and it took writing a journal to make this discovery. Now I know why I couldn’t sleep at night! It took a food journal to unravel the mystery of my insomnia.

You will most likely find that the act of food journaling will help you to increase your awareness of what you are eating and how much you are eating and drinking every day.

You will be able to spot the junk food that is creeping into your life and undermining your fitness goals. You will also be able to raise your awareness of when you are eating junk food, what your triggers are, and how you can start implementing strategies to eat healthier.

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How to implement food journaling into your routine?

1. Commit to a small habit of journaling

Like exercise, the easiest way to implement a food journal into your routine is by creating a small habit. For example, tell yourself that right before/after you eat, you will spend just thirty seconds recording what you ate.

Make it as easy as possible to make notes about what you are eating. Write down your consumption in bullet point form. Perhaps keep your food journal on your mobile phone so that the act of journaling is as painless and quick as possible.

You are really just making a list of your intake to help monitor what you are eating. You are not making a comprehensive dietary assessment. The smaller the habit, the easier it will be to implement, so start small, and you will have the greatest chances of success.

2. Identify a cue in your routine

Like anything in life, consistent food journaling requires that you turn journaling into a habit rather than something you have to remember to do every day.

The most powerful habits are ones you perform on a daily basis, automatically. These habits are generally based on a particular cue.

Think about what you do when you wake up in the morning. If you are like most people, you stumble out of bed, stagger to the kitchen, switch on the kettle or coffeepot, and make a cup of coffee. This is a habitual routine. The act of waking up is a cue to get the coffee going. The coffee is the reward.

Another example: I always check my mail when I get to my desk. Whether I have been out for lunch or out for a meeting, when I sit down at my desk, I check my mail.

Jotting down what I am about to eat just before I put the first spoonful of food into my mouth was a great way to turn food journaling into a habit for me.

Choose an established habit of your own as a cue to jot down your daily consumption of food.

3. Keep your journal in a convenient location

For the most part, humans are lazy.

If you leave your journal in the basement locked in the safe, chances are you won’t want to fetch it every night to complete your entries.

The key to any habit is simplicity and convenience.

Keep your journal in your purse or in your pocket if you prefer writing notes. Link the journal to events in your life. Journal when you are waiting for your food order. Journal each time you get the elevator.

Make sure you link your journal to convenient things to help you remember to write it all down. And don’t forget the pen!

If you prefer to go digital, why not choose your mobile for journaling?

There are a number of apps that you can download for your smartphone that make the act of food journaling really easy.

4. At the end of thirty days, review your journal

Remember that the object of creating a food journal is to spot patterns and analyze what you are really eating. It is therefore important not only to write your journal, but also to take the time to read what you have written.

Once you have created the habit of journaling, take the time to read your journal. Wait a few weeks, and then take a look at your journal. Wait until the habit is formed.

I don’t mean to imply that you need to do a statistical Excel analysis on your daily dietary intake, but spend some time at the end of each month just taking a look at your eating habits.

Take the time to recognize your patterns so that you can identify where you could improve.

If you notice that you tend to snack on candies in the afternoon because the candy machine is the only convenient food at the office, then you can begin to keep a healthier snack around for those particular times. Take an apple to work. Keep a healthy snack in the car.

Don’t get too involved in analyzing your diary, though. The keystone habit of food journaling will automatically begin to change other areas of your life without you even consciously realizing (that’s the great part about keystone habits!).

When you begin to record what you eat, your brain automatically become aware of your habits and patterns, which will lead to you making healthier choices (again, without even trying). That, in turn, leads to more energy, more productivity, better mood, and a host of other benefits.

Read also: How to get rid of bad habits?


Food journaling is a keystone habit that can make you healthier, happier, and more productive. The key to implementing it is to:

  • Set a goal for a small habit: Spend just thirty seconds before/after a meal, recording what you ate.
  • Make it as painless as possible to implement the habit. Keep your pen and journal handy, or use a food journaling app.
  • Commit to keeping a food journal for the next thirty days.
  • At the end of a month, review your journal to identify negative eating patterns that you can improve.

A small challenge

Make a decision to take action today.

Food journaling is a powerful keystone habit that will lead to many other knock-on benefits in your life.

Research shows that the act of food journaling often leads to better eating habits, healthier lifestyle choices, improved exercise routines, and increased productivity without even necessarily trying.

Get yourself a food diary and choose a cue that makes sense to you. Keep your food diary for the next thirty days, and then set aside one afternoon to review how the mere act of food journaling changes what you eat in general.

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  • Small and Keystone Habits by Akash Karia