• Analyzing Your Eating Behaviors


    Before you can change the way you eat, first look at the way you are eating now. Tracking what you eat can help you figure out your typical food choices and especially your portions. It also helps you identify whether stressors or emotions play a part in why you eat the way you do. Identifying these factors will allow you to change one part of your eating plan at a time, which will make these lifestyle changes more realistic and manageable.

    In this article, we focus on two important steps for getting started:

    • Tracking What You Eat
    • Finding Your Problem Areas

    Tracking What You Eat

    Eating healthy can seem overwhelming, especially when you’re not even aware of the changes you need to make. Fortunately, the first step in getting started doesn’t even require changing what you’re eating. But it does involve writing down whatever you eat and drink for a week or two. The idea is to open your eyes to what you are eating, how much, and any patterns that explain why you eat the way you do, such as a busy schedule, stress at work or feelings of loneliness or boredom.

    When keeping food records, write down everything that goes in your mouth, no matter how small, and whether it’s a typical mealtime or not. Be as specific as possible and include all of the following:

    • Time of day,
    • Type of food and/or drink,
    • How it was prepared,
    • The amount you ate,
    • How you were feeling, who you were with, and where you ate,
    • Any physical activity (planned or spontaneous) you had during the day.

    You might put it into a daily chart that starts like this one:



     Food Item and Preparation


     7:00 AM



     8 ounces


     Banana, small

     Coffee, with 2 ounces half and half, 2 packets of sugar

     Rushed for work

     Ate in car


     10:30 AM

     1 ounce

     8 ounces



     Hungry, at desk

     1:00 PM

     2 slices

     12 ounces

     Cheese pizza, thin crust


     Relaxed, restaurant

     1:45 PM

     15 minutes

     Walked laps around office building

     With co-worker

     3:00 PM


     Took stairs up 5 flights at work


    Check out USDA My Pyramid Plannerand Spark People, where you can enter everything you eat and drink and have your diet analyzed for you.

    Similarly, if you have a smartphone, search the available applications. You may be able to download an application to assist you with this simple Getting-Started task. If you don’t have a smartphone or you don’t have a computer and Internet access with you, old-fashioned paper and pen methods for food records work just as well, if not better. The idea is to write down what you eat just before or after you eat it, so you don’t forget. You can always carry a small notebook with you in your pocket or purse.

    Finding Your Problem Areas

    After you have kept a week or two of food records, you will be able to look at the information to see where you can make any changes. Look for patterns to identify problem areas. You might not have realized your current eating habits could use improvement. But even if you had an idea, it will be more obvious if you have it right in front of you. You may find you have many problem areas, but pick one or two that you are willing to work on first.  

    If you need help getting started, you may want to ask your doctor for a referral to see a registered dietitianwho can help you analyze your eating behaviors. 

    Although this is not a complete list, below are a few sample problem areas you might identify from your food records:

    • Too many high-calorie snacks between meals
    • Not enough fruits and vegetables
    • Not enough whole grains
    • Not enough fish
    • Too many high-fat dairy and meat products
    • Too much salt from convenience foods and fast foods
    • Too many packaged foods with high saturated fat and trans fat levels

    Also consider why you eat the way you do. These common problem areas can be avoided once you identify them:

    • When you’re hurried and harried, it may be a trigger for eating low-fiber, high-fat, high-sugar, convenient foods such as donuts, candy or fast-food options. Identifying this problem area may require finding time to prepare healthy foods in advance and stocking a heart-healthy fridge  so you will be able to grab healthy foods just as quickly as the unhealthier ones.
    • Emotions may also be a trigger for eating unhealthy, comforting foods. Some people turn to foods when they are angry, but don’t know how to express it. Or some people feel they have failed on a diet and load up on comforting foods, figuring weight loss is hopeless. Calories you eat while you’re bored or lonely can also add up, when what you really want is companionship. Identifying emotional problem areas and finding solutions to them may be difficult. You may also want to seek the help of a licensed therapist.
    • Certain people in your life may have a positive or negative influence on your eating behaviors as well. If you have a friend who always convinces you to splurge, even when you weren’t going to, you may want to try avoiding meals with that person because it will not be easy to make good choices in his or her company. On the other hand, maybe you have a friend who is also trying to live a healthier lifestyle. This person would make a great dining partner so you can keep each other track.

    Once you find that some changes are in order, you'll be ready to take the next step: setting goals and starting a plan.