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Food journaling for mindful eating

Food journaling isn't about micromanaging calories. It's about understanding how your food choices affect your mood, sleep, energy levels, and overall wellness — and how those factors affect your food choices.

by Mia Rigden Board-certified nutritionist, classically trained chef

I’m a big fan of food journaling. In fact, it’s the very first thing I ask my clients to do and I even wrote a book about it (The Well Journal, pictured above). My version of journaling, however, isn’t about counting calories or feeling guilty about your food choices; it’s about bringing awareness to your eating habits and connecting the dots between how you eat and how you live.

You can’t change what you’re not aware of, and it’s easy to make food choices without intention or realizing how it might be affecting (or be affected by) your mood, sleep, energy levels, digestion, and more. Food journaling is an opportunity to make the choices that let you feel better and give you more joy in the process. 

If you’re just starting or considering a food journaling practice, I encourage you to think of it as an investigation and use it to help make sustainable changes and track your progress. At the most basic level, food journaling is qualitative data; keeping this daily log will help you understand your choices and empower you to make small changes that can have a big impact.

Does your energy plummet in the afternoon and lead to sugar cravings? Are you consistently hungry an hour or two after breakfast? Do you snack more when you’re tired? There’s so much we can learn from simply writing down our daily behaviors. 

When making dietary and lifestyle changes, it’s amazing to be able to look back on your journals and see how certain areas of your life have been affected. The benefits are rarely felt overnight. Having a record of how your sleep, mood, digestion and overall quality of life has improved can make these changes feel more tangible, even if they develop over time.

Here are five reasons to adopt a food journaling practice: 

  1. Mindful eating. At its core, food journaling is a mindfulness practice. The simple act of writing down what you eat will make you much more conscious of your trips to the pantry or late-night snacks. And there’s science to back this up: Studies show that self-monitoring, without making any deliberate changes to your diet, is significantly associated with weight loss.
  2. Understanding how your food choices affect other areas of your life. What makes “The Well Journal” unique is it encourages you to focus on more than just food. By logging your mood, sleep, mindfulness routines, exercise, vegetable intake, and more, you attain valuable insight into how your food choices affect these areas of your life and vice versa.
  3. Accountability. Writing down your daily wellness routines will hold you accountable to yourself and remind you to be consistent with practices like your supplement routine, mindfulness tools, and more. I recently read an article in Scientific American about the power of a streak (if you play Wordle, you know what I mean), which has been clinically proven to boost motivation. Use your journal as a way to log consecutive daily behaviors so you can get better results from your food and wellness routines. 
  4. Creating new habits. If quitting a habit or starting a new one is important to you, this is a critical step. When an action or routine is repeated daily (per my last point!) it starts to become unintentional, meaning you do it without having to think about it or be reminded. That’s when an action becomes a habit.
  5. Seeing the benefits of new behaviors by documenting change. More often than not, the benefits of improving your nutrition don’t happen overnight. Sometimes it can be difficult to tell if a dietary change or a new supplement routine, for example, is making any difference. I’d challenge you to keep a journal for at least three months and see any differences in your mood, digestion, energy levels, sleep, cravings, immune health or other areas of your life. 

Mia Rigden is a Los Angeles-based board certified nutritionist, trained chef, and the author of The Well Journal (2020) and Foodwise (2023), a comprehensive, encouraging guide to healthy eating with 100 original, nutritionally-balanced and flavor-enriching recipes. Learn more about working with Mia on her website, check out an online course, and follow on Instagram @mia_rigden for science-backed, practical nutrition advice.