Nutrition: Getting personal with your nutrition

Jane McClenaghan

Jane McClenaghan

Jane writes a nutrition column for The Irish News. She has a passion for good food and her philosophy is one of balance – simple, effective and practical changes that can fit into anyone’s lifestyle.

Try keeping a food diary to help improve your eating habits
Try keeping a food diary to help improve your eating habits

FROM not having enough willpower to cravings and emotional eating, there are so many reasons why we find it hard to eat well all of the time.

But here's the thing – healthy eating should not be hard work, it is not about all-or-nothing. When you find a way of eating that suits you, then you will not need your willpower to stay off the food you think you shouldn't be eating, because you will be making choices on how that food makes you feel, not on a whim or giving in to a craving.

Strict regimes and rigid plans have no place in a balanced and healthy diet. When we set ourselves strict boundaries, we are setting up for failure, disappointment and frustration. Then, when we go off the track we think we should be on, we will over-eat junk food, processed foods and end up eating too much of the foods that cause damage to our health.

Personalised nutrition works with you, not against you. Make choices because they fit with your health, your likes and dislikes, your habits and routines and your lifestyle, rather than because you are following a diet plan or strict regime.

If you have never kept a food diary, it can be a useful tool to help you work out what your habits are – what you are already doing well and what you could change a little for the better.

When you know your habits, it is easier to work out where the gaps are: then you can make one or two little changes that will help support your health and wellbeing without having to do a total diet overhaul.

You will probably also notice all the good things you are doing that you may not have realised before. So here's how to do it.


Keep a note of everything you eat and drink over three or four days. Don't change your normal diet, just take a note. You can use an app for this is you want to, but simply using a notebook and pen or your phone will do the trick.


To get an accurate record, don't rely on memory. Record each meal just after you have eaten, otherwise you might forget a few things. Remember, this is only for a few days.


When you have completed your food diary, sit down and do a little mini nutrition evaluation. Make a note of the things you are doing well. What do you like about your diet? Maybe you are getting enough water, eating your five-a-day, or consciously choose high fibre foods, for example. Don't be hard on yourself. Read your food diary as if it is someone else's. Make a note of three, four or five things you are happy about.


Then, think about what you would like to change in your diet, and set yourself a goal for the upcoming week. Make your goal simple, positive and achievable. For example, instead of "I am giving up crisps", it is better to say "I will replace crisps with nuts". This switches your mindset into something more positive.

Make one small change each week, but remember – this is not a diet, this is all about making changes that fit your routine, habits, lifestyle and preferences.