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Last updated: Sep 02, 2021
5 min read

Food journaling and mindful eating: benefits and how to practice

steve silvestro

Medically Reviewed by Steve Silvestro, MD

Written by Ashley Braun, RD, MPH

Disclaimer

If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Food journaling and mindful eating are two strategies you can use to achieve your healthy weight goals.  

Let’s take a look at how to use them and how they can help you throughout your weight management journey.

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What is food journaling?

Food journaling is a great method of being more aware of what you’re eating. A simple food journal allows you to track what you eat and how it makes you feel. Once you clearly understand what you eat in a day, it’s easier to stick to your plan and start making changes when needed. 

If sustainable weight loss is a part of your plan, it’s been shown that tracking your food with a food journal can significantly help you lose weight (Ingels, 2017). Of course, food journaling is also great for healthy weight maintenance and for weight gain if your goal is to gain weight.

To make it easy, start by just recording your dinners—that’s it. Once you get into the habit of using your food journal, you can then begin to add more meals and snacks into your tracking. But when you first start, focus only on dinner.

In your food journal, write down:

  • What you ate and drank—including the main dish, sides, seasonings, and sauces
  • How physically hungry did you feel before starting your meal?
  • What was your mood before and after eating?
  • Did you feel bloated or have any digestive problems after eating?
  • Take note if you have any physical symptoms, like a headache or feeling tired.

Benefits of food journals

Food journaling helps to build your awareness of your food choices. Sometimes even simply writing down everything you eat in a day can help to reduce mindless snacking. Here are some of the benefits of keeping a food journal (Ingels, 2017):

  • Can help with weight management
  • Better awareness of what/how much you eat and drink each day
  • Enables you to see trends in symptoms to look for sensitivities
  • See how your mood impacts your eating habits
  • May help you stay on track with health goals

How to log your food in a journal

To get started, choose a style of food journaling that’s most comfortable for you, whether in a notebook, app, or a simple note on your phone. The most important thing for consistency is finding an option that you find easy and enjoyable to use.

One option is to download a food tracking app on your phone to log food, drinks, and mindful eating observations into the app. Food tracking apps can be great because many of them will also list the nutritional content of foods. If you prefer writing by hand, you can use a notebook to track your meals and observations. 

Try to be as specific as possible in your food journal, logging:

  • What food you ate, including the main course and any sides, seasonings, or sauces
  • The portion size
  • Anything you drank
  • What you felt like before you ate—were you hungry? Bored? Happy, sad, or frustrated?
  • How did the food make you feel—were you satisfied, bloated, tired, content?

In addition to helping you with your healthy weight goals, food journaling can also help you identify your eating behaviors and any symptoms or sensitivities you might have to certain foods. 

What is mindful eating?

Mindful eating is pretty simple: it’s about paying close attention to your food while you’re eating. That means turning off your phone, shutting all screens, and being present in the experience of eating the food in front of you. 

This approach is a form of mindfulness meditation that helps reduce mindless snacking, emotional eating, and binge eating. And believe it or not, mindful eating can sometimes help you enjoy what you’re eating even more.

Rather than checking emails, thinking about your to-do list, or watching a video on your phone, mindfully eating directs your focus back to your food, how it tastes, and how you feel as you’re eating it. 

Since eating mindfully makes you more aware of your hunger and fullness, it’s been shown to help reduce overeating—making it a great weight loss tool (Mason, 2019). 

Some other benefits of mindful eating include (Robinson, 2013; Cherpak, 2019; Mason, 2019):

  • Better digestion
  • Reduced stress eating
  • Healthy weight maintenance and weight management
  • Feeling more satisfied with less food
  • Increased awareness of how food affects you

How to practice mindful eating

The key to practicing mindful eating is to slow down and focus on your food. You want to bring your full awareness to your meal. Try these tips to eat more mindfully:

  • Turn off all notifications and devices to limit distractions.
  • Stop any other activities. That means no working, reading, watching videos, or anything while you’re eating.
  • Engage all of your senses before you even take a bite: How does the food look? What is the texture of the food? Notice the temperature and smell of the food. 
  • Take small bites and chew slowly. Feel the movement of your jaw and tongue as you chew and swallow.
  • What does the food taste like? Does the flavor change as you eat slowly? 
  • Before, during, and after your meal, check in with how hungry you feel and your satisfaction with the food.

Mindful eating and food journals: The dynamic duo

By themselves, mindful eating and food journaling are helpful ways to bring awareness to your eating. Together, they can help you stick to your weight management plan.

Eating behaviors can often be driven by our mood and how we feel. Using mindful eating skills and food journals, you can learn the differences between eating for physical hunger and emotional eating. 

Getting started with mindful eating and food journals

Start slowly—with just one meal. We suggest starting with tracking dinner. Adopting a new habit takes time, so starting with just one meal a day helps to build consistency slowly.

The same goes for eating mindfully. While it would be great to eat every meal and snack each day mindfully, it can be overwhelming to try to do too much too soon. Instead, pick one meal a day, working up toward more as you get the hang of it.

Like other habits, you might feel the urge to quit food journaling or eating mindfully if you happen to miss a meal or two. But don’t give up! Simply pick up where you left off. One untracked meal is not going to derail your progress. 

References

  1. Cherpak, C. E. (2019). Mindful eating: a review of how the stress-digestion-mindfulness triad may modulate and improve gastrointestinal and digestive function. Integrative Medicine (Encinitas, Calif.), 18(4), 48–53. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32549835/
  2. Ingels, J. S., Misra, R., Stewart, J., Lucke-Wold, B., & Shawley-Brzoska, S. (2017). The effect of adherence to dietary tracking on weight loss: using HLM to model weight loss over time. Journal of Diabetes Research, 2017, 6951495. doi: 10.1155/2017/6951495. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5568610/
  3. Mason, A. E., Saslow, L., Moran, P. J., Kim, S., Wali, P. K., Abousleiman, H., et al. (2019). Examining the Effects of mindful eating training on adherence to a carbohydrate-restricted diet in patients with type 2 diabetes (the DELISH Study): protocol for a randomized controlled trial. JMIR Research Protocols, 8(2), e11002. doi: 10.2196/11002. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6401674/
  4. Robinson, E., Aveyard, P., Daley, A., Jolly, K., Lewis, A., Lycett, D., & Higgs, S. (2013). Eating attentively: a systematic review and meta-analysis of the effect of food intake memory and awareness on eating. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 97(4), 728–742. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.112.045245. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3607652/