Food Logging Instructions

[Note: this is intentionally a living document and will probably have later versions above 1.0 as we learn and grow the process.]


If you’re reading this, you have probably have done some version of food tracking before. I’ve found I often misjudge quantities easily when I don’t put forward some effort to track them effectively. The good news is that I’ve worked on this series of techniques over a year and they are designed to be a very fast, yet accurate way to log your diet visually.

In following the FLP, you MUST record everything you eat and drink. Everything. All food, all beverages, all water, all supplements. You’re doing this to have a complete record of your food intake, which serves many great purposes, both for research and personal purposes.

Record your food in two ways:

  1. By taking a digital picture of it and/or its ingredients.
  2. By logging it in a food tracking program (currently, I use MyFitnessPal, but I may change it)

If pressed for time and you can do only one of the two above — always take the picture. This rule has no exceptions; it is the one rule to focus on above all others. We are fortunate to be in a time where taking digital pictures is always fast and convenient with our phones always being on us and ready. Moreover, they can now easily store thousands of photos on the phone and typically back these up online as well.

Picture taking

With each picture, you’re trying to (1) capture the actual food itself and the (2) weight/quantity of the food (with preference to weight). Capturing the weight/quantity of the food in a picture can be done through a few techniques, ranked from best to worst:

  1. Capture it on a scale with the digital readout visible. This is hands down the best way to be sure of the weight. Usually I’m capturing on the scale in my kitchen, but I also have a portable scale that I take with me when going out or for travel. Food Scale
  2. Capture the item in its packaging with the weight/quantity clearly visible. This works generally with bottled beverages and packaged foodsFood Packaged
  3. Capture it with your off hand in a relaxed fist near the food, resting on the same surface. This provides a useful reference point for volume in the same picture. This is important given pictures of food can have different plate and portion sizes. Food with Hand
  4. Capture it by itself with no reference point. Obviously this is a worse choice than the three above, but still better than not capturing anything at all.
  5. Write a note about what you ate and take a screen shot of that note. If for some reason you really can’t capture a picture of your food or forget entirely and need to come back to it. Write a note on a notes app in your phone that described what you ate and take a screen shot of it. (Example note: “Had six ounce, all beef bunless hotdog in dark movie theater about two hours ago.”)

Gestures for the shot

The following is a series of single hand gestures to use while taking a picture with the other hand. These are mostly used to convey missing information effectively.

  1. Fraction Point. Make a horizontal point with your offhand finger as if to say, “I had about this much.” It’s a dividing line that can suggest you had more than is shown or less than is shown depending on where you place it.
    Drink Full and Half

    [Left] Started drinking when the cup was full, even though picture taken at half. [Right] Drinking half the bottle, even though picture taken at full.

  2. I’m Done. Face your palm down toward the food in the picture with only your four fingers showing at the edge of the frame as if to say, “I’m stopping here.” It is meant to convey you are done with the meal and to now count what is left over against the picture you took when you started.
    Food Stop Salad

    [Left] Started with 141g of lettuce inside package [Right] Stopped at 107g of lettuce inside package – meaning 34g consumed.

    Food Stop Burger

    [Left] Started with two cheeseburger patties and 2/3rd container or ranch [Right] Stopped at one cheeseburger and 1/3 container of ranch – meaning one patty consumed with 1/3 container of ranch (20g)

  3. Finishing Up. Pointing upward next to the object is meant to convey, “I am finishing this up now.” I created this gesture for the rare times I took a prior shot of something like a water bottle, then some significant time passed (such as falling asleep) and I then wanted to reference both what was left over and where I was starting.
    Drink Finish Up

    [Left] Intended to drink entire bottle [Right] Picture right after shows 4/5ths consumed (400ml), now finishing up final fifth (100ml)

  4. Two fingers, three fingers… etc. with palm facing toward the camera. This is meant to convey “second helping”, “third helping”, etc. Because I might take multiple pictures of the same food at times, it is assumed when a picture takes place just seconds after another one that it is a duplicate. But in the event I actually add something identical (like more dressing packets) or even eat the same thing again (such as a second horderve) very soon after the first one, I try to ensure I emphasize it with fingers to denote the addition.