Whenever I start working with a client, I always tell them to keep a food and symptom diary. It’s one of the most important tools to use when we’re trying to figure out possible food sensitivities, as well as instrumental in losing weight and keeping it off. In fact, it’s been shown that those who keep a food journal at least 6 days a week lose (on average) twice as much weight as those who don’t (1). In my experience, a combination of a paleo elimination diet with keeping a food journal provides the best results in terms of finding hidden food sensitivities. For these reasons, I think keeping track of your intake with a journal is one of the best things you can do for your health.
What App Should I Use to Keep Track of My Food?
I’m always experimenting with new phone apps for this purpose because I find that they are the easiest way to keep track of my intake. I’ve tried the usual ones like MyFitnessPal, but they are time-consuming (if you’ve ever tried this app, I’m sure you’ll say the same!) and too calorie-focused.
One app I’ve found recently is called Meal Logger, and it has by far surpassed all the other apps I’ve tried. Meal Logger works on your desktop, iPhone, or Android and is super easy. Instead of entering each food and portion size individually, you just snap a picture of your food and upload it to your journal. You can also put a note that corresponds with your picture (i.e. “2 scrambled eggs and sweet potato”). Keeping track of your food literally takes 30 seconds!
With Meal Logger you can also add a “Daily Note”, which patients have been using to enter some of the symptoms they had that day, keep track of blood sugar levels, or let me know that they had a stressful day. Some patients also just upload a picture and use the note that corresponds with it to enter their symptoms there. Though I wish Meal Logger included some built-in tools for symptoms, there are easy ways to include them even without that.
You can also connect with your nutritionist or other professional via Meal Logger so that they can see what you’ve been eating, which is my favorite part of the app. As a dietitian, I can send an email to a client inviting them to use the program. When they accept, they show up as one of my clients and I can see whatever they have put in their diary. It’s a super easy way for me to keep track of what’s going in everyone’s mouth! When we have follow ups, I don’t have to wade through emails upon emails looking for your journal – it’s all right at my fingertips.
I highly suggest checking out Meal Logger if you’re looking for a program that will let you easily keep track of your food intake. It doesn’t rely on calorie-counting (though there are some tools within the app if you really want to go that route), it makes it easy to see portion sizes, and you can even connect to your nutritionist or other professional through the app for easy transfer of information.
10 Things to Keep Track Of
When you’re keeping a food diary, you should of course make sure to put everything that crosses your lips into the journal. Though you can enter food items without pictures via Meal Logger, I highly suggest snapping some pics before entering the information, especially if you’re keeping this for your dietitian! But beyond the obvious, let’s talk about some things you should make sure to include:
- Spices: It’s possible to be sensitive to spices, so it’s a good idea to include these in your journal. Since we’re just taking pictures, you’ll want to make sure to include any spices beyond salt and pepper in your note that goes with the picture.
- Cooking Fats: It’s always useful to know what fat something was cooked in, so definitely include this information in your note, too.
- Hidden ingredients: This goes along with what we’ve already mentioned – make sure to write down any ingredients that aren’t obvious from your photo. For example, if you made a sauce that was on top of your chicken instead of writing “sauce”, write down exactly what you made the sauce with.
- If you ate out: If you ate out at a restaurant, make sure to write that in your note! Though you may know now it was a meal outside the house, you might forget later when you’re looking back or if you’re sending it into your nutritionist, he or she may not know.
- If you didn’t finish the meal: You’ll be taking pictures before you start your meal, so make sure to write yourself (or your nutritionist) a note that you didn’t finish your meal. If you want to be extra good, you could even take another picture of the stuff you didn’t finish. Or, just write a quick note approximating the portion that was left untouched.
- Bowel Movements: Yeah, maybe not the most pleasant thing to write about but it’s important! You can write this in your Daily Note or put it in your journal – either way works. And be a little specific – was it loose, formed, diarrhea, etc?
- Your specific symptoms: If you’re trying to get rid of reflux, hives, or whatever other symptom you may have, make sure you keep track of when these symptoms are popping up for you throughout the day. When you (or you and your nutritionist) look back at older diaries, you’ll then be able to pick up on patterns and potentially find hidden food sensitivities.
- Life Stress: If you had an extremely stressful day, write it down! Stress can be related to your symptoms as well as food, so don’t forget about it.
- Exercise: Meal Logger allows you to keep track of workouts as well – make sure to use this feature!
- Sleep: Meal Logger also allows you to track sleep. You can sync it with a device you use for this (like a FitBit) so that it will be done for you, or you enter it manually.
Do you have any favorite apps for keeping track of your meals?