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Dear Diary …Picking up a pen can be your best health ally

Whether you want to lose weight, identify the source of a food allergy or just eat more healthfully, picking up a pen may be your best strategy. Writing down everything you put in your mouth not only encourages long-term weight-loss success but gives your doctor or dietitian a better look at what is on your plate … literally!

Recording your food choices will help you and your doctor identify problem areas—and take you one step closer to better nutrition.

What and when

In your food diary (a notebook or loose-leaf paper will do), record any food item that passes your lips. Don’t just write down “burger and fries.” Be descriptive: “Beef burger on a whole-wheat bun with lettuce, tomato, onion and pickles.” Did you use ketchup, mustard or mayonnaise? Did you salt the fries? What did you drink with the meal?

Amounts are very important, too. A serving of pasta could mean one cup of noodles to you but two cups to your neighbor. Don’t forget to note if the meal was homemade, fast food or restaurant prepared.

Also, be sure to include the times of your meals. Lunch can mean anything from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Mood and more

Make note of how you felt before you ate. Were you stressed and starving? Maybe you weren’t really hungry and just wanted to munch. For example, you might identify a tendency to snack while watching your daughter’s ballet practice. Knowing this will give you more incentive to use the waiting time to sneak in a few pages of reading or simply relax.

Also, mention if you were eating alone or with friends. One study shows that people eat more when they dine with other people than when they eat alone.

Be honest

Don’t forget to write down everything (yes, even those six M&Ms) that you put in your mouth—including water. And no cheating! It is okay to have snacks, but just make sure you write them down. You can’t “hide” a brownie from your body, so there is no point in pretending you didn’t eat it.