I am not going to keep you in suspense. The free tool that can change the way you eat is a food diary.

Have you tried keeping a food diary but found although it helps to keep you accountable for the time being, it doesn’t result in longer term change? The accountability that comes with actually writing down your actions can help you to succeed. But there’s more. You cannot rely on accountability alone to achieve your nutrition goals… Although its beneficial knowing the ‘what’, really being able to study your eating habits can help you understanding how, when, where and why you eat. When you have all the pieces of the puzzle together, you will be in a better place to break habits, make longer term change and get the results you want. Here’s how…

1. Own your actions
Although you think that you’ve eaten pretty well during the day, you need to own your actions and admit even the seemingly insignificant things that could contribute to why you’re not reaching your goal. Fill out your diary as you go rather than leaving it till the end of the day. If you just think before bed about what you’ve eaten, you may notice you forgot the biscuit you snacked on while waiting for lunch or the little extra helping you had at dinner (or off your partner’s plate). By writing down what you eat and drink soon after it goes in your mouth, you’re going to realise these little additions that could otherwise be forgotten. So, in order for you to eliminate this mindless snacking, you first need to be aware and acknowledge that this is something that you do; otherwise you will fall into the same cycle later down the track.

2. Pick out the patterns
So you’ve been writing down everything that you’ve had over the past week. Now is the time to re-read what you’ve written and reflect. Perhaps you can see that you tend to have a massive 6 hour break without eating anything between breakfast and lunch and then you graze on anything and everything in the afternoon? Or maybe you notice that your diet is pretty regular while you’re at work but you allow yourself a few more indulgences than you realised after work or on weekends? The point is that when your eating habits are written down in front of you, it is much easier to pinpoint patterns and identify areas which you can work to improve. These can be habits that you have formed over years so even if you commit to changing on Monday, it is important to constantly review your eating patterns. If you do miss a day and lapse into your old routine, remind yourself of your goals and try again tomorrow.

3. Understand your emotional motivators
Have you asked yourself “why did I eat that ice cream?” We don’t just eat when we are hungry. It may be that we are stressed, bored, sad, happy, or any other emotion for that matter. Everybody reacts to their emotions differently; your colleagues may power through their workload without stopping for lunch but you may deal with the same stressful situation by taking extra snack breaks. Over time, we can develop a habit where we use food as a coping mechanism. Being able to recognise the emotional motivators that underpin why you eat can break the emotional eating cycle and also encourage you to identify real longer-term solutions.

Keeping a food diary doesn’t have to take up a lot of time or need an elaborate spreadsheet, but the thing to remember is that you need to use it in a way that it will help you achieve your personalised goals. I’ve prepared this food diary for you to use; it is completely free and I would love to see you using it to not only increase your accountability regarding what you eat but also to encourage you to think about having a healthy lifestyle as a bigger picture. Please share this link with any friends or family who you think may also benefit.