Food Diary

Keeping a food diary for just a few days every 6 weeks or so can help identify what you’re eating, why, when and how, and whether this aligns with the advice in 5 for Life.

It’s a surprisingly difficult task (so be gentle with yourself); partly as it’s easy to forget what you’ve eaten unless you enter each item immediately (not always convenient!), but also because estimating portion sizes is tricky. Use comparisons which mean something to you, for example ‘one cup’ or ‘one large handful’ or ‘the size of my palm/fist’. The precise amounts don’t matter as long as the estimates are consistent; you’re looking for change over time.

When you use the diary:

  • List everything you eat, and approximately how much.
  • Think about why you made each choice. When did you eat, and where?
  • Notice how much protein, vegetables, fibre and water you had each day. Notice the type and quantity of carbs, using the traffic light table to categorise them. Notice how much of what you ate was processed, or highly processed.
  • Repeat the process every month or so, and compare to see what’s changed over time.

Click [here] to download the food diary. To get the most out of the diary:

Time. It’s important to note down the time you ate (not just ‘breakfast’ or ‘dinner’). Try to be accurate to the closest half-hour.

What. When filling out the ‘what’ section, break it down as much as you can. For example rather than ‘tuna salad’, write one 95 g can tuna in oil (drained), one cup salad vegetables, half avocado. Remember to note down any dressings or sauces.

If you eat packaged things, taking a photo of the nutrition label is a great addition to the food diary.

How much. When estimating ‘how much’, it’s easiest to use cups or teaspoons. Use grams only if you’re pretty sure (e.g. the 95 g tin of tuna). For meat, fish or poultry, use your hand size (palm size, whole hand size; three fingers, etc).

Why, where and mood. For these sections, think about why you ate, where you were and how you felt. Were you standing in the kitchen in a hurry on the way to work? Sitting at your desk checking emails? Feeling rushed or stressed, etc. (If there’s nothing you can put your finger on, it’s fine to mark mood as ‘ok’, or not to mark at all).

Fluids. For the fluids, tally these (one stick equals about 250 ml/one glass/cup) in the space under the heading for fluid type. Remember to count milk in tea or coffee. For a shop-bought flat white, cappuccino or latte, milk is usually about 200 ml for a small or ‘regular’ size.