Why Use a Diary To Track Diet and Exercise?

  • 8 Minutes Read

Congratulations! The fact that you are reading this article means that you are thinking about or have already started tracking your diet and exercise.

Why Use a Diary To Track Diet and Exercise?

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, more than 70% of adults over the age of 20 years is either overweight or obese. Wow! That means most of us living in the United States have excess weight. This is a problem because excess weight increases our risk for developing diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, disturbed sleep, joint pain, and other health issues.

Calories count when it comes to weight loss, gain, or maintenance. If you eat more calories than you burn, then you gain weight. For those of us struggling to lose weight or maintain our weight loss, it is critical that we have an understanding of how to manage our calories so that we meet our short-term and long-term goals. Tracking diet and exercise also helps us become more aware of:

What We Eat

Logging food and beverage intake helps us think about the type of food we eat and how it is prepared. The fact that you have to choose one particular food item over another encourages you to become more aware of the calorie differences between foods prepared in different ways. For example, 3 oz of roasted chicken breast with skin has 28 more calories, 4 g more fat, and 1 g less protein than roasted skinless chicken breast. The small amount of extra calories might not seem like a big difference, but over time, it adds up. It is similar to what happens when you don't fix a leaky faucet. That slow drip over time means a higher water bill.

When We Eat

The best time to log is when you actually consume the food or drink so that you do not have to rely on memory. Look at your time entries in your food log. Do you see any timing patterns that seem to help or hinder you from meeting your weight goal? Here are some red flags for consuming too many calories:

  1. Skip breakfast and/or lunch, eat a large dinner, and then snack late into the night.
  2. Time gap of more than 5-6 hours between meals. Your next meal is likely to be higher in calories with a long delay between meals.
  3. Constant grazing - your time-stamps show that you eat or drink calories all day long. What's going on? Eating enough at meals or are you skipping meals?

Why We Eat

In addition to keeping an accurate food log, consider keeping a journal about events that occurred during the day. In MyNetDiary, you can use the Notes section on your Dashboard for this purpose. This will help you discover if there is a relationship between what happens in your day and your eating habits. In addition, look at days where your exercise is lower or higher than typical for you. Does your food intake seem to be different on those days? Ironically, many of us tend to eat more calories on the days when we have very little activity.

Portion Size

Learning about portion size is one of the most important benefits of using an online diary. It has a profound effect on our calories intake. When we don't measure our portions, we almost always underestimate how much we really eat. This is why so many of us struggle with weight loss, even if we are tracking calories. Measuring is much more accurate than guessing. Also, the more frequently you measure, the better you will be at guessing portion size when measuring is not possible.


Tracking food intake is helpful for anyone who is trying to meet nutritional goals, with or without weight change. Macronutrients (fat, carbs, and protein), water, vitamins, and minerals are all nutrients that can be tracked. MyNetDiary uses the U.S. Dietary Reference Intakes for recommended nutrient goals. These are evidence-based goals for people based upon their age, sex, height, weight, and life stage. You can customize nutrient goals as needed, with the full range of options available with Premium membership.

What to Look for in a Food Diary

Not all online calorie and activity trackers are the same. Look for one that is easy to use, allows customization, has a large database, can be easily accessed, and gives you a way to connect or communicate with other members. There are many online calorie counters to choose from, but not all applications have these important features. I find MyNetDiary especially powerful and easy to use because of these features.

1. Large food database and grows regularly

New foods are added to the database daily and are immediately available to all users. Without a large enough database, you will either have a less accurate calorie intake assessment or you will have to spend a lot more time entering your own customized foods. Currently, this database has more than 1,108,000 items.

2. Accessibility

Creating an account means you can login to any MyNetDiary-supported platform and access your data. It's important that logging is convenient. Use whichever platform is at hand - your computer, iPhone, iPad, or Android phone. And when you login with an account, you won't lose all of your data if your phone is lost or stolen.

3. Community

Forums provide way to connect with other members and staff at MyNetDiary. You can learn a lot by posting and answering questions on the forum. If you login to the web program, explore groups and teams that you can join or create. Also, follow us on Facebook, Pinterest, Reddit, and Twitter for useful tips and links. And MyNetDiary has two registered dietitians who are also certified diabetes educators to answer your questions on forum and social media.

4. Option to add new foods and recipes

Choose a tracker that allows you to enter custom foods and recipes. With MyNetDiary, I can do this right in the middle of logging a meal. This saves a lot of time since it is a 1-step process. I have worked with many systems where adding a new food item or recipe was a multiple-step process. This is much easier. Also, MyNetDiary's PhotoFood Service allows us to enter just a few nutrient amounts from the food label and then they enter the remainder of the nutrients for us (using photos of the front and back of the label).

5. Does it sync with your fitness device?

If you use a fitness device that can send data to Apple Health or Google Fit app, then that data can be synced with MyNetDiary. This is especially helpful for tracking exercise since you don't have to remember to manually enter the data from your device. MyNetDiary can also sync directly with FitBit, Garmin, and Withings if you have a Premium membership.

Tip: MyNetDiary's Premium membership includes tracking blood glucose and a number of other important physical measurements (e.g. A1C, blood pressure, etc). Premium also offers a wide range of reports and charts from different time periods. You can try Premium for 14-days with a money-back guarantee as long as you purchase the membership directly from MyNetDiary's website.

Research Supports Tracking

The connection between recording intake and weight loss is supported by research. One example is the study Weight Loss During the Intensive Intervention Phase of the Weight-Loss Maintenance Trial spearheaded by Jack Hollis, PhD, of Kaiser Permanente's Center for Health Research. In Phase 1 of their study, two key behaviors were most strongly related to weight loss: diet records and physical activity. More food records kept per week and more minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week were both associated with greater weight loss. Interestingly, both of these strategies for weight loss were particularly effective in men, although women and men all lost weight.

For people trying to prevent diabetes, weight loss is an important preventative measure. The good news is that consistent dietary tracking has been shown to be effective for long term weight loss: The Effect of Adherence to Dietary Tracking on Weight Loss: Using HLM to Model Weight Loss over Time.

Tracking diet and exercise also important for weight loss maintenance. You can learn more by reading this study: Successful weight loss maintainers use health-tracking smartphone applications more than a nationally representative sample: comparison of the National Weight Control Registry to Pew Tracking for Health.


Using a diet and activity tracker will help you make informed choices so that you can meet your weight and nutrient goals. You will learn a great deal about weight, calories, foods, and nutrients. And most importantly, you will learn a lot about how your dietary habits affect your health and weight.

Last Updated on May 14, 2018

Mar 6, 2018
Katherine Isacks
Katherine Isacks, MPS, RDN, CDCES - Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist (CDCES)

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