Keeping a Food Diary
“Why am I not losing weight?”
Now, there's a question I hear a lot. Of course, there are many reasons that differ by individual, but, as a dietitian, I look for an answer by checking the food logs first.
A food diary, food log, food record – no matter what you call it – it is the gold standard for measuring intake and counting calories. Prestigious organizations like The National Institutes of Health and the American Medical Association recommend keeping food logs when making dietary changes. And sure, food logs are the best, but they have to be accurate.
The Eye-Mouth Gap
The dietitian in me looks for evidence of the "Eye-Mouth Gap" - a nutrition research term that describes the common practice of underestimating one's intake. Research shows that even the best-intentioned subjects in well-designed studies remember only 50 - 80% of the food they eat. Population surveys confirm it too. Too bad because oversights in recording can make the difference between losing weight and not.
Eat it up, write it down
The basic requirement for keeping a food log is simple: Write down everything you eat or drink throughout the day and night. Don’t rely on your memory! Food logs based on delayed information are almost incomplete. You need to write it down as soon as you eat it, or better yet, log your food directly into Calorie Count. But the main point is to record every sip, nibble, bite, and gulp.
Before starting, assemble a collection of standard household measuring devices. Measuring cups, measuring spoons and/or a food scale are ideal.
Paint the picture
Some food logs are useful, while others are not-so-much. The difference is that useful logs are not vague. For instance, it doesn’t help to called it a “glass” when you mean a 6-ounce portion, or to call it “chicken” when you mean chicken, wing, meat and skin, cooked, fried in flour.
Be as descriptive as possible to make your food records work for you.
What you eat in specific terms using
- Brand name (e.g. Land O' Lakes Fat Free Half and Half)
- Language on the food label (e.g. skim milk fortified with vitamins A and D)
- Name of the restaurant and menu item (e.g. Pizza Hut Stuffed Crust Supreme 14 oz pizza)
How much you eat by being sure to:
- Measure your cooked portion and log only what you eat.
- Describe the product size (e.g. a small, medium, large banana)
- Read the food weight on the package and log your portion (e.g. one-half of a 42 oz packet). Use the Calorie Count Unit Converter to change weights in grams to ounces or to some other measure.
How the food was prepared:
- Don’t forget the many additions (e.g. 1 tsp olive oil, 1/4 tsp of salt, 2 tbsp of Kraft Regular Ranch Dressing, 2 tsp of white sugar)
- Name every ingredient in a recipe (e.g. 1 medium green pepper, ½ cup of lean ground beef mixed, ½ cup of long-grained white rice).
Your best bet is to use the Calorie Count Recipe Analyzer to generate a Nutrition Facts label for a serving of the food you cook. Then, tag the recipe for entry into your food log at any time. Ditto for tagging items that you habitually enter as a "whole" (e.g. 1 cup of Cheerios, 6 oz of skim milk, 1/2 large banana).
People are notoriously erroneous when it comes to estimating food portions. Our notions change along with the size of our plates, bowls and drinking glasses. Still, sometimes we just can’t measure, and so we have to estimate food portions. If you find yourself estimating often, then train yourself to use props by practicing at home.
The Fudge Factor
Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, we just can't find the calorie count for a food. In that case, substitute another similar food. By trying hard, you are perfect enough.
Does The Eye-Mouth Gap apply to you?