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WCRF/AICR
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AICR HealthTalk

Karen Collins, MS, RDN, CDN, FAND
American Institute for Cancer Research

Q: Will keeping a food record help me improve my eating habits?

food diary

A: Studies show that people who keep track of eating behaviors tend to be more successful at changing them. If you’re considering using some kind of paper or online food diary, think about what you’re trying to achieve. If you already know which habits you want to change, you may be successful keeping a simple record focused on one or two specific behaviors you want to change, such as evening snacks, soft drinks or second portions.

On the other hand, if you overeat or lack balance in your food choices but aren’t sure when, why, and how much you eat, one way to find out is to record what you eat all day. Include notes of time, portion sizes, where you are eating (restaurant or home, kitchen table or sofa with TV), how hungry you are (1 to 10 scale) and whatever thoughts or emotions you can pinpoint. All this yields crucial information to identify specific problem areas and provide insights about what needs to change. Don’t track only meals; for many people, it’s snacks and unplanned eating here and there that adds up to create the most trouble.

If you’re not sure what to do with the information you have, use a website that compares your eating to calorie- and nutrient-based standards such as the SuperTracker at choosemyplate.gov. Or send your records to a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RD or RDN) who agrees to provide you with feedback.

If you have a history of going on and off diets or are vulnerable to give up at setbacks, reconsider how you use food records. You can foster a positive attitude with a log that keeps track not of failures, but of successes (like how many times you workout). Look at a completed food record like a detective, looking for clues on what changes might be most helpful. Attitude is crucial: you need to expect gradual improvements, not immediate perfection.

For help getting started with weight loss: Reduce Your Cancer Risk: Weight


The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature and educates the public about the results. It has contributed over $105 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. AICR has published two landmark reports that interpret the accumulated research in the field, and is committed to a process of continuous review. AICR also provides a wide range of educational programs to help millions of Americans learn to make dietary changes for lower cancer risk. AICR is a member of the World Cancer Research Fund International (WCRF).

Published on 03/16/2015

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