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The benefits of keeping a food journal

A healthy diet is critical to diabetes management. Starting that diet and staying true to it might be easy for a few weeks, but over time, staying accountable can become difficult. Those "cheat days" might come a little too often, or those "just this once" moments happen one too many times, and before long that diet is history.

When the best of intentions go awry, it takes something concrete to get back on track. That's why a food journal can be an important tool in the pursuit of tight glucose control.

If asked to write down everything consumed during a week's time, most people can remember the major meals. But what about the snacks? How about that little taste of chocolate cake at a friend's birthday party, or that extra glass of wine with dinner? All of those little things add up and can wreak havoc on both weight loss and glucose levels.

Five tips for using a food journal

These tips to creating and maintaining a food journal can open the doors to accountability:

  1. Get organized. Although a food journal can be as simple as writing it down on a piece of paper, elaborate programs that keep track of every last calorie are available online, often for free. Whether on old-fashioned paper or a snazzy new computer program, keep track of everything in one place to avoid confusion later.
  2. Keep records in real time. Don't wait until the day is over to write everything down. Take notes during the day about snacks, meals, drinks and more. Keep track of the actual portion sizes as well.
  3. Note everything else. A food journal is also a good place to keep track of other pertinent things, such as medications, exercise, blood sugar highs or lows, and hunger or thirst at different times of day. Making note of emotions from time to time might also be helpful.
  4. Review it with the doctor. Take the complete food diary to the next doctor's appointment. A diabetes educator or nutritionist can analyze the record and offer ideas on how to improve your eating habits.
  5. Stay brutally honest. A food diary is only as good as the honesty within the pages. Neglecting to write down a snack or dessert defeats the purpose of the journal. Be honest, even when the pages tell a story of not-so-good dieting or diabetes control. The key is to get an accurate overall picture.

Why keeping a food journal matters

A 2008 study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found most people lose weight when they keep a food diary, perhaps because they are finally seeing what they really eat and can make reasonable adjustments. By keeping track of the food consumed and the resulting glucose readings, those with diabetes can not only track their food intake but can see how blood sugar levels respond to their eating habits. In the effort to keep blood glucose levels under control, a food diary can be a valuable tool in staying accountable.

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About Shannon Lee

Shannon Dauphin has lived with diabetes for fourteen years. When she's not playing ninja with lancets or counting insulin units, she can be found traveling across the country with laptop in hand.

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