Food Journaling and Healthy Eating Habits

An open diary, marker pends, wrapped chocolates and popcorn pieces

“Dear diary, 

Today… “

OK – maybe it doesn’t go exactly like that but we’ll get to it. 

Do You Have an Inner Food Critic?

Is there a voice in your head that sometimes makes you feel bad for eating dessert? Or make you feel guilty for absent-mindedly going through an entire bag of crisps during movie night? Or make you feel regret for eating that entire bowl of cheesy pasta? Trust me, we’ve been there.

The power of keeping a journal of the food you eat is that it may help you become more accountable and deepen your awareness of what you consume. For example, you may be less likely to have an extra serving of pudding if you know you will have to later write it down or face your inner food critic.

Food journaling may also allow you to be more aware of the emotions that you have around food(s) or certain (un)healthy habits that you may have. For example, if you feel anxious or sad, do you crave food even if you’re not hungry? Or, is there a particular time of day that you start looking for a snack?

Keeping an account of your diet may help to find resolve in these type of questions. For example, by knowing you respond to certain situations or have a habit of emotional eating, you can begin to substitute it with healthier practices – either a different activity or a healthier version of the food. 

Food journaling may help to steady this loud voice in our heads about what we should and shouldn’t eat. It may help to calm any negative emotions we may have towards food. While journaling is a scientifically-proven tool for weight loss, it offers benefits beyond that. It can be used for a step-by-step track of your fitness and nutrition progress.

Encourage Mindful Eating 

Developing a greater awareness of what we eat may help us deepen our understanding of our body’s signals of eating when we’re hungry and stopping when we’re full. Developing a habit of mindful eating is hugely beneficial for our overall health in the long-term. 

Sandra Aamodt, PhD, neuroscientist and science writer explains that your body has what’s called a ‘set point’ whereby your brain has an in-built understanding of how your body should weigh which ranges from 10-15 pounds up and down the scale. 

The part of your brain that regulates your body weight is called the hypothalamus. This sends dozens of chemical signals to tell your body to either gain or lose weight. This system almost works like a thermostat would in your house, keeping your house (your body) stable as conditions change.

Mindful eating encourages you to understand your body’s signals of when you’re hungry and when you’re full and satisfied. It facilitates a look at how your body feels when you start and stop eating.

By focusing on a healthy lifestyle, you are probably more likely to achieve your body goals with mindful eating rather than crash diets. And in the long-term, your body may be much better off. 

Forming Healthy Habits and Mental Resistance 

But, it’s always easier said than done. Any kind of change is not always welcomed so easily. And we get it, sometimes it’s really hard to kick a habit or build healthier habits.

Mental resistance and mental chatter when we aim to do something different than what we always have done are very normal. It’s not uncommon to feel resistance when we focus on doing the things we need to do most for our evolution. When we try to break up old patterns or habits, a mental temper tantrum can likely surface.

Overcoming this is part of the process of developing healthier habits. Every time you choose to rebel against that voice telling you how difficult it is, the more you are overcoming your mental resistance.


Cue: Food Journaling. 

Keeping a journal may be an effective way to help change behaviour. And the secret to doing this successfully is accuracy and consistency.

Things to include:

  1. What you eat – specific details are useful such as how it’s prepared, any sauces, condiments or dressings too
  2. How much you eat – estimated portions will do if you can’t weigh or measure your food (not everyone has time or means to do this.)
  3. When you eat – time-wise (*inner food critic: late-night snacks uh-oh*)
  4. Where you eat – TV dinner? Kitchen? On the move?
  5. What else you do when you’re eating – Reading? Watching TV?
  6. Who you eat with - Solo? Friends? Family? (FYI - pets and plants count too. We’re very inclusive.)
  7. How you feel as you eat – what emotion are you feeling? Happy? Sad? Anxious? Bored? Tired? 

Sounds simple enough. Then what?

Time for a review. After completing a week’s worth of journaling, have a look at everything you’ve recorded. Look for any trends, patterns, or habits.

Things to consider when you’re having an overview of what you’ve recorded: 

  1. How healthy is your diet?
  2. Are you having a daily intake of fruits and vegetables?
  3. Wholegrain? How frequently?
  4. Added sugar? How frequently?
  5. Does your mood affect how you eat?
  6. Do you often snack?
  7. How often do you eat on-the-go?

All of these questions may help you frame your diet in a way that will allow you to find some areas for improvement. Once you’ve identified something you want to improve, apply the SMART goals technique. Make sure your goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-based. 

For example, if you have observed that you aren’t eating enough fruit/vegetables. A goal would be to increase your intake of these foods. A SMART goal would be to eat two servings of vegetables per day.

Another example, you notice that you often start to look for a snack at 3-4pm. A goal would be to reduce/stop snacking. A SMART goal would be to bring a healthy snack (such as a Free Soul shake or a handful of nuts and raisins or a healthy snack bar) with you every day.

The Takeaway 

Food journaling doesn’t have to fuel your inner food critic or micromanage your diet in an unhealthy way. Food journaling can be a way to keep yourself accountable and to allow certain foods in your day to day purely out of enjoyment and satisfaction, in moderation. Keeping a food diary can also help you find out about how certain foods may affect your body or help you find out about any food intolerances.

Little by little, these small changes will amount to an entirely changed habit and much healthier eating patterns. Using the data that you’ve recorded in your food journal is a great place to start your journey to a healthier lifestyle.

**At Free Soul, your wellbeing is our priority, and although we pride ourselves on our expertise in women's health and wellbeing, it is important to acknowledge the individuality of each person. Features published by Free Soul are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease, or replace the advice of your GP. We always recommend consulting with a healthcare provider if you encounter any health concerns, and we’ll always be here to support you so you’re never alone on your journey.