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Dear Diary: Why You Need to Start a Food Diary Today

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Updated February 15, 2014

You probably hear a lot of people say that you should keep a food diary if you want to eat healthier and lose weight. If you're anything like I used to be, the more you hear it, the more you think, "I don't need to do that. I know what I eat." But the fact is, very few of us are truly conscious of how much, how often and exactly what we eat.

A food diary can be as simple as writing down your food and beverage intake in a notebook or it can be kept online at About.com's Calorie Count. Starting a food diary is possibly the most important step you can take toward developing a lifestyle that leads to long-term weight loss success. Here's why:

  • You can have an honest view of your current habits.
  • It's the key to finding the way of eating you can live with.
  • It can help you make the eating-emotions connection as to why you overeat.
  • It serves as a tool that you can use later on to measure your progress.
  • If you continue to keep it at your goal weight, it will help you find the problem areas that have previously stood between you and long-term weight maintenance.

When you start a food diary, it may be the first time you've honestly looked at your eating habits. This can be a daunting prospect initially. But remember, if you're overweight, you already know deep down that whatever you've tried before hasn't worked. A food diary can help you understand why you have failed. It can point out things you never realized about how, why, how much, and how often you eat.

Some people don't keep a food diary because they are in denial about their habits and truly don't want to know what they're doing. While you may be hesitant to look at your habits this closely, it is a vital step to switching from a "diet mindset" to a lifestyle change. Instead of beating yourself up when you pinpoint the mistakes you're making, look at this as an opportunity for finding areas for improvement; it will then serve as a source of inspiration rather than self-criticism. Once you are conscious of your problem areas, you can begin making the long-term changes that will help you meet your goals.

A food diary can be used to record far more than food intake. You can use it to record the emotions, situations, and triggers that cause you to overeat or make poor food choices. In fact, your food diary may end up being more about your feelings than food in the end. And that's OK, because there is often a connection between feelings and food. Your food diary will help you identify your emotional eating triggers. When you are aware of them, you can take the time to plan alternate activities to eating before the situation or emotion arises again.

Even if you're not ready to commit to keeping a food diary for the rest of your life, at least try it for a week or so. If you want to lose weight, you'll need to change your eating habits -- how can you know what you need to change if you're not truly aware of what you're doing now?

Just jot down the foods you eat, how much you eat, and whenever possible, why you're eating (such as boredom, hunger, with friends). Your food diary will give you clear answers to questions you've probably been asking yourself for years if you keep it truthfully. Once you do so for a few days, you'll find that using a food diary makes you more likely to commit to the lifestyle changes that you need to make in order to lose weight and keep it off.

To keep an online record of the foods you eat, search for foods' nutritional data, and find out the caloric content of foods at a variety of restaurants, check out the excellent tools at About.com's Calorie Count.

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