Keeping a Food Diary for a Dairy-Free Diet

Creating a food diary

Creating a food diary is easy. Here’s what to do:

  • Write down everything you eat or drink every day for a period of several days, a week, or however long you can stand it. Use a notebook, index cards, a journal, or a word-processing document on your computer — whatever works for you and your lifestyle.

  • Keep your notes as detailed as possible. If you have a bowl of cereal for breakfast, note whether you covered it with cow’s milk or nondairy milk. If you ate a sandwich for lunch, note what the filling was and whether it contained cheese or any other dairy products.

  • Record what you eat as soon as you finish your meal or snack. That way, you’re less likely to forget to record — or to forget what you ate! Some people record at the end of each day, but don’t fall into that habit. Your records will be more accurate if you record immediately after eating or drinking.

Maintaining your food diary on a notepad or small journal is convenient because you can tuck it into your purse or briefcase and have it handy whenever you need to make a quick note. However, online food diaries also are available. The advantage to these is that they can tally up your total daily calorie intake and analyze the nutritional value of your diet.

Estimate portion sizes to the best of your ability, and jot those down as well. For example, note whether you had one cup of milk on your cereal, two slices of bread with your sandwich, a half cup of cooked vegetables with one teaspoon of margarine, and so on. This information may be useful at some point in helping you or a healthcare provider determine your level of sensitivity to milk protein or lactose.

Monitoring your progress with a food diary

Use your food diary to check your progress from time to time. After you’ve kept a food diary for an initial week or two, set it aside. Let several weeks go by, and then maintain a diary again for several days. Compare it to your first diary to see how far you’ve come. It can be motivating to see that you’ve consistently replaced cow’s milk on your morning cereal with soymilk, that you’re depending on fewer cheese-laden meals, and that when you do eat cheese, you buy dairy-free varieties.

Seeing on paper what you currently eat also may trigger the recognition of foods you’re still eating that contain dairy. For instance, you may realize that you’re using processed foods that contain dairy ingredients, such as cake mixes or salad dressing. You may find that keeping a food diary helps you weed out the dairy products in stages, a batch at a time.

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