Count Calories Easily With a Food Journal

Updated on August 28, 2018

Why is a Food Journal Important?

Any serious fitness regimen needs to begin by understanding where things have gone wrong. Why are we overweight and unhealthy?

Invariably the answer lies in diet. For this reason, the first rule of weight loss is understand your diet. You may lead what's called a "sedentary lifestyle" -- moving very little during the day -- but the cause of excess fat is almost always directly connected to what, and how much, you eat. We begin with an analysis of your existing habits to locate the habits that are hurting your health.

With a food journal, you quickly see the patterns that have led you into trouble. A food journal gives you raw data that you can analyze. When you see day after day of your own eating habits, you very quickly see how things have gotten off track. With that, you can begin putting together a plan to get your life and your food intake back on track.

Once you get in the habit of writing down everything you eat, you will be amazed at how natural it begins to feel. I began with a food journal nearly five years ago, and even though I don't really need to, I still often write down everything I eat, just because it makes me feel strong and in control.

What You Eat is More Important Than How Much You Work Out

The rule of thumb for those of us trying to stay healthy and lean is that the process is "80% diet and 20% work out." I have found this to be absolutely true, and even though I work out religiously, I know that if I go home and pig out on pizza it won't amount to much. If the main thing we have to get right when we try to lose weight is our food intake, then it follows that a food journal is a valuable part of your fitness tool kit. You can have an excellent workout regimen and the world's best work ethic, but if your daily food intake is out of control you will not succeed.

1. 12-Week Food Journal and Fitness Tracker: Track Eating, Plan Meals, and Exercise Goals

If what we eat is more important than how hard we work out, then of course we turn our attention to controlling our bad food impulses. To successfully manage our food intake, it's important to start out with an understanding of what we eat and how it has contributed to our current issues with weight. That's where a food journal comes in.

Writing down everything I ate was the first step for my fat loss journey. It's been almost 5 years since then, and still I often sit down and write out my calorie totals for the day. For me, writing down my daily intake in a quality food journal is the most important part of a truly successful fitness regime. I tend to use codes at this point -- PPC means "protein pancakes," EE means "two eggs," and so on -- and a good journal keeps everything ordered and organized.

Using a simple, organized journal like this one made a huge difference in getting started, and I still use this method when I feel like I'm slipping.

Successful weight loss takes programming, not willpower.

— Phil McGraw

The Math Behind Your Energy Balance

One way of looking at diet and intake management is in terms of calories. A calorie is a scientific unit of measurement that refers to the amount of energy it takes to raise the temperature of one gram of water one degree Celsius. Food is your body's source of energy and heat, so one way to understand your body is like a machine that uses food as fuel to keep running. Form this point of view, you're a lot like a car.

But unlike a car, your body can store up extra energy. If you overfill your car's tank, it spills on the ground. But if you overfill your body's fuel tank, the extra fuel doesn't spill on the ground -- it gets stored in places around your body. Those extra fuel tanks, as you have probably already guessed, are in your love handles, saddle bags, beer belly, and man-boobs.

The answer, then, is to not overfill your fuel tank. We need to eat a little less than we burn, and we'll use up that extra fuel that we have stored in the form of fat.

2. Hello New Me: A Daily Food and Exercise Journal (90 Days Meal and Activity Tracker)

This good-looking food journal has many of the standard features that users find useful. Reviews point out the way this journal provides room to write about food cravings, and how they're dealt with in the moment. This really helps in finding "trigger foods" and trigger situations that lead us to over-eating.

This food journal has lots of space and a section how to make tomorrow better, because even if your will-power let you down today, there's always tomorrow!

While weight loss is important, what's more important is the quality of food you put in your body - food is information that quickly changes your metabolism and genes.

— Mark Hyman

3. Daily Food Journal Diary by Peter Pauper Press

This is the food journal that I found most helpful when I returned to keeping track of my calories after a few months of time off (and yes, in my experience, "time off" = gaining fat!). It's easy to use, the right size, and has the features that work for me. Some features:

  • Places to record calories, exercise, water intake, and servings of fruits and vegetables
  • Small enough to fit in a purse, backpack, or pocket.
  • 192 pages
  • Ribbon bookmark
  • Acid-free paper
  • 4-1/4 by 5-3/4 inches

This book has a nice feature -- a removable cover that doesn't advertise the fact that you're dieting. It's also good-looking, with a red interior end sheets and an elegant black ribbon bookmark.

4. I Can Do This: Diet Tracking Journal -- 90 Days of Change

I love the title of this book -- because YES, you can do this! With a good record-keeping habit, and a convenient little book like this to keep track of your progress, you can finally take control of what you eat and manage your calories in and calories out.

The Diet Workbook is a personal tracker that makes it easy for you to see what you have been eating day in and day out.This diet journal also makes it easy to keep track of your daily and weekly workout regimen.

Weight loss can change your whole character. That always amazed me: Shedding pounds does change your personality. It changes your philosophy of life because you recognize that you are capable of using your mind to change your body.

— Jean Nidetch

5. Food Diary: Food Journal / Log / Diet Planner with Calorie Counter

This journal provides plenty of room to record everything eaten, along with macro-nutrients like protein, fat, carbohydrate and, of course, calories. This food journal has room for:

  • Time and place: where & when was the item consumed?
  • Sleep, energy & stress: track the ways in which mood affects your food intake
  • Water consumption
  • Allergy symptoms: is a particular food causing you some kind of reaction?
  • Supplements and medications
  • Fruit and vegetable portions: are you getting the daily recommended allowance?
  • Exercise: record your workouts

This excellent food journal also has a spare column to track a variety of data, including sugar, caffeine, or alcohol. There are also charts at the end of the book for calculating calories burned at rest and during different activities.

Food Journal Pitfalls!

A recent article in pointed out some potential pitfalls of food journals.While citing a 2008 study in American Journal of Preventative Medicine that suggested that people who keep a food journal lose twice as much weight as those who don't, they point out that even something as simple as a diet journal is not foolproof.

1. Don't Limit Yourself to Pen and Paper

If you're far away from your journal and the calories are building up, by all means use your smartphone or any other method of writing down what you're consuming. When you get home, you can transfer all your scribbles and scrap in a nice neat journal entry.

2. Forgetting About Portion Sizes

Portion size is one of the trickiest things about losing fat, because the size of one serving listed on the packaging is seldom the amount that fills you up. If a package of Oreos can say "Only 80 calories perserving," it would only be because ONE Oreo is 80 calories. I don't know about you, but one Oreo is not gonna be the end of the situation. When you journal, you need to have a grasp of how much one serving is, and that means a grasp of ounces, grams, and etc. The internet is very helpful with this -- you can find photographs of serving sizes with a simple image search.

3. Not Recording How You're Feeling

When you only write down the things you eat, you neglect to include how you felt when you were eating -- and the emotional component of eating and overeating cannot be ignored. Be thorough and be honest!

4. Your State of Mind and Body AFTER You Eat

It has always helped me to pay attention to what my body and brain are telling me after I eat something, especially if it's a rule-breaker like fast food or a big dessert. Did it actually give me that good, happy feeling that I thought it would? Often the answer is a resounding "NO."Over time I have learned that the promise of happiness is actually exactly the opposite.

Stay Strong, People!

Other Good Weight-Loss Resources on and

Here are some good resources if you're ready to get serious and commit to using your healthy shopping list to eat smart:


These sources were consulted for this guide:

All quotes from

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.


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