The Positive Effects of Keeping a Food Journal


I started keeping a food journal in January of 2018 as a way to hold myself more accountable to what and how often I was eating in preparation for an upcoming photoshoot for work.

Talk about a game-changer. 

There’s something that positively impacts the decision-making process around choosing what to eat when you know that you’ll have to write it down (even if you’re the only person who reads it). More often than not, I found that I would opt for healthier choices in lieu of snacking on something more indulgent simply because I didn’t want to face the shame of putting it on paper.

Several studies have shown that people who keep food journals are more likely to be successful in losing weight and keeping it off. A study from the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that people keeping a food diary six days a week lost about twice as much weight as those who only kept food records one day a week or less. 

While I don’t step on a scale with any regularity*, I started noticing several positive effects of maintaining a food journal within the first few months. Not only did my clothes start to fit better (and feel looser!) — providing a huge boost to my self-confidence — but friends, family and clients began making positive comments around the changes they had noticed in my appearance. (Look, aesthetics aren’t everything. But when you receive external validation from people who care about you, it feels good. I started to feel like the work I had been putting in behind the scenes was starting to pay off and I felt motivated to keep going.)

An added benefit of keeping a thorough and honest record of my food choices that I wasn’t anticipating — I began paying more attention.

For many of us, the decisions we make around food can be a rushed, mindless process driven by routine, convenience, boredom, perceived cravings, or instant gratification. (We’ve all had moments of reaching for something simply because it was in front of us, only to experience feelings of guilt or shame shortly thereafter.)

Maintaining a detailed log of my meals allowed me to be more mindful about what I was choosing as fuel for my body.

I started to understand how my food choices were making me feel both physiologically and emotionally. Suddenly I was able to see patterns around what foods I was selecting and why. Was I merely snacking out of boredom? Did my choices make me feel happy, tired or depressed? Would selecting a particular item upset my stomach, make me feel bloated, satisfied, or provide me with more energy?

Keeping a journal enabled me to draw intelligent correlations to my food, my body and my mood, provided me with a heightened sense of awareness, and wound up changing my relationship with food for the better.

There are plenty of free online food tracking systems and calorie counters out there, but I’m a bit old school.

My journal is a super basic Google Sheets doc that allows me to log the date, time of day, and the details of each meal/snack within simple columns. If I’m out at a restaurant, I’ll either snap a picture of the menu that lists out the ingredients of my dish, or I’ll type up the ingredients on the spot in the Notes app on my iPhone and will copy/paste the details into my online spreadsheet at a later time.

Like I said, old school, but it works for me.

There was a period of time when I was a bit more ‘hardcore' and I’d log my calories and my macros (carbs, proteins, fats) but I reached a point where I was pleased with my appearance and didn’t feel the need for my food journal to be too OTT. Nothing against tracking calories or macros — it just isn’t my thing. But if it’s your thing, great! Your food diary should be a tool that works for you.

At Ethos Retreats, we believe that when it comes to food, it shouldn’t be about rigid guidelines or restriction — but more about striving to live a healthy, balanced, happy life.

Of course we all want to look and feel our best, but our goals revolve more around having enough energy to sustain an active lifestyle and making choices that promote our overall health and well-being. We work hard, we eat well, and we indulge from time to time — but you better believe that I write ALL of it down.

*In the spirit of transparency, we don’t weigh ourselves regularly, nor do we own a scale. We gauge a ‘healthy’ weight by how our clothes feel and how comfortable we feel in our own skin. While I’ve never had an eating disorder or officially been diagnosed as having OCD, I know that I’m the type of person who could take weighing myself regularly to an extreme. I have come to learn that stepping on a scale, counting calories or even counting macros could be a potential trigger for me, I don’t like the idea of assigning a number to my self-worth, so I choose to abstain from these activities. Obviously there are situations (like going for a check-up with your GP) where learning your weight is unavoidable, but these instances have served more as opportunities to gauge where I’m at with my weight with a simple data point versus a number to measure my self-worth against. x

MindfulnessKatie Carroll