It’s easy to go on autopilot from day to day, never really taking more than a cursory glance at how the food we eat makes us feel, emotionally and physically. Half the battle of healthy eating is understanding your own food issues, and a food diary is a powerful tool to bring awareness to your eating patterns.

Looking back at even a day’s worth of “data” helps us eat more consciously. Try it for a week and see how you feel!

8 Tips for keeping a food diary

Note how you feel physically and emotionally before, during, and after each meal, snack or beverage.

Sometimes you may not feel any particular way. That’s okay—you can just write “fine” or “good.”

Make sure to track positive and negative feelings

Make to sure to note physical symptoms, which are bodily sensations.

Clues for imbalance: headaches, stomach pain, muscle cramps, coughing, fatigue, insomnia, restlessness, shakiness, muscle weakness, poor concentration, pallor

Clues for balance: bright eyes, hunger, stamina, natural deep breathing, high energy, restful sleep, focus, alertness, strength, good attention span, good color

Emotional symptoms may be a little harder to notice

Clues for imbalance: anxious, bored, scared, mad, sad, depressed, scattered, restless, irritable, agitated, hyper

Clues for balance: confident, excited, energized, humorous, happy, interested, focused, calm, relaxed, easygoing, patient

Be honest! Nobody has to see the diary except you. (I shared mine below to get you inspired, though ;)

Stay free of negative judgments.If negative feelings arise, or if you feel guilty for eating something “bad,” remember that recording this information will help you to see the connection between what you eat and how you feel emotionally and physically.

If you forget to write down a meal, just keep going.

Food Journal Printable

Feel free to use this guide (download a PDF here), or to re-create it in a more convenient way that works for you.

To help get you started, I’m sharing a couple days’ worth of my (honest) eating habits.

My Real Girl Food Diary

Generally I avoid gluten and dairy in order to deal with an autoimmune condition, but lately I’ve been slipping up a lot, or turning to sugary snacks and processed foods that are technically “safe,” but still aren’t good for me (ahem, Twizzlers and chicken nuggets).


Breakfast, 7:50 a.m.

2 scrambled eggs

1 piece gluten-free toast with non-dairy buttery spread

5 strawberries

1 cup of coffee with coconut creamer

Hunger level: 4

Comments: I don’t know how I survived before I started eating eggs for breakfast. They are the only way for me to make it through the morning!

AM Snack, 11 a.m.

1 Kind bar (Maple-Pumpkin Seed)

Hunger level: 2

Comments: I’m teaching a high school class over the lunch hour and I’m hoping this Kind bar keeps me full.

PM Snack, 2:30 p.m.

5 huge handfuls (maybe 6?) Twizzlers

Hunger level: off the charts

Comments: I didn’t eat lunch, even though I’m starving, and I know this was a mistake…as can be seen by what I did here. My class ran late and I had booked an interview for an article immediately after, then I got stuck in traffic for 45 minutes with only Twizzlers (left over from classroom treats) in the car. I can feel my hanger getting worse by the second.

Dinner, 7 p.m.

1 turkey burger (no bun) with barbecue sauce

1 cup kale salad with roasted chickpeas, zucchini and Annie’s Goddess dressing

1/2 cup quinoa pilaf

1 glass red wine

Hunger level: 3

Comments: I feel awful about eating all that candy, and I know now that I’ll want more of it so I make my roommate take it. I had a big sugar crash when I got home and, as a result, worked really slowly all afternoon and didn’t get done with work until about 6:45. Luckily I had prepped some real food the night before and was able to put together a decent dinner. I feel so much better after all that kale.

Evening Snacks, 9:30 p.m.

1 1/2 cups popcorn with nutritional yeast and olive oil

1 ginger kombucha

1 glass red wine

(I may have grabbed one more Twizzler before bed.)

Hunger level: 2

Comments: Criminal Minds strikes again. I can’t watch TV without eating, even if I’m not that hungry.


Breakfast, 7:45 a.m.

2/3 cup coconut chia seed pudding with raw pistachios, strawberries, cinnamon and a drizzle of maple syrup

1 cup of coffee with coconut creamer

Hunger level: 2

Comments: I know the chia seed pudding won’t keep me full as long as eggs, but I’m in a hurry and I’m not that hungry.

AM Snack, 10:30 a.m.

Handful of roasted chickpeas

Handful of pumpkin seeds

Handful of leftover popcorn

Hunger level: 3

Comments: This is why they tell you to only keep healthy snacks in the house. I just finished one project and needed a break before moving on, so I’m standing in the kitchen and literally eating handfuls of whatever I can find. Not because I’m that hungry, mind you. Because I just need something to do.

Lunch, 12:45 p.m.

1/2 cup roasted tempeh

1 cup steamed kale with vinaigrette with roasted chickpeas and radishes

1 apple with peanut butter

Hunger level: 2

Comments: Maybe I’m eating lunch at the wrong time, because I’m not that hungry. It feels like a chore to eat the tempeh, probably because I wish I was eating candy again.

PM Snack, 2:30 p.m.

5 gluten-free chicken nuggets with ketchup

3 strawberries

Hunger level: 5

Comments: I’m in desperate need of protein, and the only thing I can find is a bag of chicken nuggets. This feels like a weird snack.

Dinner, 8 p.m.

2 tacos (1 with hard corn shell, 1 with collard leaf) with grass-fed ground beef, spices, tomatoes, radishes, baby kale, pinto beans

4 strawberries

2 glasses white wine

Hunger level: 3

Comments: My boyfriend and I are cooking for us and his 13-year-old. I used to get really stressed out eating with them because of my dietary restrictions, but we’ve found that tacos are always a safe bet for everyone—and honestly, they don’t really care what I eat as long as I feel okay. I’m pretty jealous seeing my boyfriend’s son load his up with cheese and get sad for a moment, but I try to just think about how much better I’ll feel not having it. Plus, come on, tacos!

What I learned about my eating habits

Keeping track of my habits for a day wasn’t hard at all (beyond remembering to write everything down), and it was a great way to look objectively at why I feel a certain way when I eat certain things—which was good to remember later.

Even though eating sugar and processed food feels good momentarily, it always makes me feel worse later. It’s a vicious cycle of eating the wrong thing, then wondering why I feel awful, then eating more of the wrong thing because I already feel awful.

Also, hello, I need to stop skipping meals!! My schedule’s never going to be predictable, so I have to start being more prepared.

And I have a tendency to start the day off on the right foot, but to devolve as the day gets busy and I get distracted.

What have you learned by keeping a food diary? Do you think you’ll keep it up?

Photo credit: Free People

Graphic credit: Gaby Burger

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