Food Diaries: Are Nutrition Journal's Friend or Foe in the Fight Against Child Obesity?


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Most diets recommend keeping nutrition journals, or food diaries, on a regular basis. These journals are supposed to do several things:

First, by keeping track of everything a person eats, you can figure out exactly how many calories and how much fat is consumed.

Second, it makes people accountable for all of those little snacks that they might not think about otherwise (like that one piece of chocolate that you grabbed on the way from the kitchen into the living room).

Third, nutrition journals help people see patterns in their eating habits. Habits are a lot easier to change when you know what they are.

All of this sounds great, so. . .

what's the problem?

Well, that was what nutrition journals are supposed to do. Reality can be somewhat different.

The Drawbacks of Nutrition Journals

1. They are labor-intensive. Keeping a diary takes a lot of time and effort. It is difficult for most people to change their routine so drastically that it will last more than a few days.

Change can be a good thing. But, in order for it to stick, changes need to occur slowly. Trying to make too many changes too quickly is a frequent cause of failure.

When I talk with families in my practice, I stress the importance of not changing your lifestyle drastically. Make a small positive change and let it become a habit before adding on something else.

The bottom line. . . if it's too much work, people won't keep it up.

2. People cheat. I know. . . I'm not exactly showing my usual optimism here, but it's true.

Just because people are supposed to write down every single item doesn't mean that they will.

It's human nature to want to make things seem better than they may be. It isn't because people are consciously manipulating the system. It's just that their brains “conveniently" leave certain items off the list.

This, of course, leads to inaccuracy, and the journal loses its value.

3. It needs to be reviewed. Unless the journal is being reviewed regularly by someone who understands nutrition well, you may not know what changes, if any, to make.

Sometimes people can analyze their own nutrition journal and see what the problems are. Most folks, though, are not as fortunate, and just continue to make the same mistakes over and over again.

Should you use a nutrition journal?

You can, but you don't have to.

If you choose to keep a food diary for your child, keep the following points in mind to increase your chances of success. Don't try to record everything your child eats every day. Only do one or two days at first, then bring the list to your doctor to comment on.

Don't scatter your focus. Use the diary to help you with one particular area.

In other words, don't try to keep track of calories, fat, protein, sugar, cholesterol, etc. at the same time. Pick one thing to look at and improve upon.

Don't worry if you miss something or forget a day. A journal is just a tool for you to help your child eat better.

Don't let your nutrition journal be what derails your weight control plan!

Michael P. Scaccia, MD, FAAP is a physician, author, speaker, and child health expert whose goal is to help families live healthier and more satisfying lives. For more information, go to=>

Would you like a speaker who is knowledgeable, dynamic, and entertaining? Dr. Scaccia speaks on a variety of child health topics. For more information, send an email to =>


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