Updated: Apr 18, 2018
5 Tips For Keeping A Food And Symptom Journal
by Nicole Symons
Keeping a food journal is a powerful first step toward improving your diet. As you track your food and symptoms you may notice patterns you hadn’t seen before, such as eating an entire bag of chips in one sitting, only drinking a couple glasses of water the whole day, or feeling tired after meals. It is much easier to make adjustments when you are aware of the areas in your life that need improvement. Many times, the act of journaling can lead to positive dietary and lifestyle changes on its own and can be a source of encouragement as you regain you health.
Here are a 5 tips to get you started!
1) Use a medium that works for you
Journaling can be challenging for some, so it’s easier to start with a medium you are more comfortable with while you get into the habit of journaling. Once you get the hang of it you can try experimenting with other formats.
A few good options:
Pen and paper
Text document on your computer
Physical or digital spreadsheet
Or if you don’t have time to record things during the day, take a picture of everything you eat and in the evening look through your photos and write it into your journal. Make sure to record something in the moment though, because waiting until the evening means you have to remember everything from the day and this may lead to inaccuracies.
Extra Tip: It can be difficult to find a perfect app. There are some great ones out there, but many focus on calories instead of nutrients and symptoms. Some apps also require a lot of time for making entries. However, there are also many benefits to using a digital format; the data can show trends over time, you can access the record anywhere and it’s easy to share the information with others. You also won’t have piles of papers or journals laying around! Try a few formats and see what works for you and your tracking style.
2) Be consistent
Whichever medium you use, it is important that you are consistent in your journaling. Consistent journaling shows changes and improvements more clearly over time and is important for making connections between certain foods and symptoms.
Some allergic reactions or symptoms show up the day after being exposed to a problem food. If a journal is missing multiple days it may be difficult to draw connections between the food and the symptom.
Consistent journaling also provides your healthcare practitioner with useful data for moving forward in treatment.
Extra Tip: Although consistency is key, don’t worry if you forget to track a day here and there. A journal over a longer period of time, even with a few gaps, will still be helpful to your doctor or practitioner. It’s definitely better than not having a journal!
3) Write down everything you eat and drink
Keep track of all meals, snacks, beverages and water throughout the day. Write down the approximate amounts of everything you consume. Unless specifically noted by your healthcare practitioner, you do not need to have exact measurements. (e.g. Approximate: “2 tacos with pork, cabbage and cilantro”; Exact: “3 ounces of pork, 1/8 cup raw cabbage and 1 Tablespoon cilantro”)
Be sure to include some details about the quality of your meal. Was the meal home-cooked, store bought or from a restaurant? Are the ingredients organic, grass-fed, pasture raised, etc?
Include all supplements and medications in your journal and write down the dosage and product name.
Extra Tip: Keeping track of the times that you eat can reveal a lot about your habits. It will become easier to see whether you are eating real meals or just snacking throughout the day. You will also be able to see how long you go between meals.
4) Track your symptoms
Symptoms are a powerful indicator of health and disease. Tracking symptoms can help you check progress and discover the root causes of health issues.
These are a few symptoms you may want to track:
Bowel movements and time (consider using the “Bristol Stool Chart” as a scale)
Exercise or relaxation activities (include type and intensity of the activity)
Mood (anxiety, depression, tiredness, irritability, etc)
Digestion (bloating, cramping, nausea, gas, heartburn, etc)
Sleep and wake times and sleep quality
Other physical changes (headache, hair loss, acne, memory loss, etc)
Watch for connections between what you consume and physical or emotional changes.
Extra Tip: Be sure to track symptoms that apply to YOU. If you have trouble sleeping, you should track sleep quality and time. Someone else may have no trouble sleeping and may be more focused on their digestive symptoms. If you only track a few things, make sure to track what matters to you.
5) Use an objective rating scale
When tracking symptoms, it is much more effective to use a scale of 1-10 instead of adjectives like “good,” “low,” or “painful”. This will provide a more useable measurement and make it quicker for you to track your symptoms. By using a 1-10 scale you will also be able to compare results much more effectively over time. (For example: “Energy - 7” instead of “I had good energy today”)
Extra Tip: Some things are not worth tracking. Your weight is one of those. Although important, it is not a useful measure of health. Unless required by your healthcare practitioner, tracking diet and symptoms will provide a much better picture of health than body weight.
If journaling is new to you it may be a lot to think about. Begin by simply tracking what you can and only what is important. Choose fewer things and be consistent about those few things. Maybe you only track your food and drinks until you become more comfortable with the process and then you add in bowel movements and sleep quality. Start small and keep it simple until you get more comfortable with the process.