Food journaling was one of the first things I took up after being diagnosed with IBD. I’m a planner and I love lists so it just made sense to me to figure out what my trigger foods were and to help me begin to navigate my IBD journey. The concept of food journaling can be intimidating for some, but it is an important resource that can provide you so much insight into your own experience with IBD. When first diagnosed or stuck in the middle of a bad flare, journaling can help determine trigger foods and track symptoms which can be helpful down the road. The Crohn’s and Colitis foundation has a pdf (here) that focuses on diet and nutrition. They explain how food affects each person’s IBD differently (remember how I said we are all unique 🙂 ) so keeping a food journal will help YOU find YOUR trigger foods and foods that YOU cannot tolerate. Just keep in mind that something that works for me may not work for you, and something that may not work for you now may work down the road. Food journaling was one of the best things I did for my IBD and I still do it now when dealing with a flare or major bloating.
The first thing to consider is a medium you will have with you constantly. While still in college when I was first diagnosed, I used my planner to track my assignments for school and then my food and symptoms. Now, I either use my planner (depending on the size that given year) or a small notebook that fits in my purse. Feel free to use your phone if you prefer since we tend to always have that on us! I use my phone whenever I am in a pinch and don’t have my notebook or planner with me! Another idea is to use a document or spreadsheet program on your computer.
The Autoimmune Wellness Handbook by Mickey Trescott and Angie Alt gets into a little more detail about journaling your symptoms and food reintroduction and provides examples of how to set it up and ideas on how to track your data. The concept I took from them most was using a number scale rather than adjectives to keep everything concise and consistent. Using energy as an example, they talk about this concept by writing “‘energy-7’ instead of ‘I had a good amount of energy today’”. The authors also suggest more journaling options in addition to food like your energy, pain, symptoms and exercise to name a few. For me, I focused on food, symptoms (pain, energy, bloating), and bowel movements. I would also be specific about what time all of my tracking took place.
I know people get hesitant when it’s suggested to eliminate foods or to restrict eating, but I find when starting out it helps to determine trigger foods and alleviate symptoms. This can be especially helpful if flaring. Eating a simpler diet will make early journaling easier and will give your belly a break. A flare is wreaking havoc on your system so keeping food intake simple will help induce healing and allow you to reintroduce foods to then determine which are triggers. Some people start off with the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP), or if you’re really bad, a full liquid or soft food diet. I even incorporated what I call (and others as well) the BRAT diet which consists of Bananas, Rice, Applesauce, and Toast to calm down my insides and have easier metrics to track. The Autoimmune Wellness Handbook also gives great suggestions about reintroducing foods and what to track during those phases as well. They even have a sample journal page, as does the CCFA, which can help as a place to start until you get the hang of it.
Once you get the hang of journaling, don’t be afraid to get extreme with it! Once I was capable of incorporating foods again, I got so extreme I got down to spices I was having on my food. It was easier for me to know what would bug me that way. I know that is a little “extra” but like I said, I’m a planner and love lists so this was nothing more than me being me! I did, and still do, get specific on times I eat and the times that symptoms hit to help me track metrics down the road. Yes, if you are running to the bathroom constantly it can get a little annoying to keep track of times but that is helpful to know what is causing symptoms for you. I’ll be honest, I even tracked if there was blood, where the blood was, what my bowel movements looked like and so on.
The most important part of food journaling is making the connections and correlations. I will go back in my journal after a few days and highlight any connections I see. If I notice there is something that I’m doing that continually causes negative symptoms I cut it out for a few days and re-evaluate. This does not mean that it is indefinitely out of my life. You may be able to work things back into your diet/lifestyle as you heal (I’m now adding fish and eggs after removing all animal products) and it’s working just fine! Just be sure to let something go for a few days before making a determination on whether you need to cut it out or if it is okay to work it back into your routine. You may even have something that causes bad symptoms that can last a few days before it works its way out of your system. Give your body the time it needs to heal and also be cognizant of how long it may take for things to get back to “normal”.
So for a quick summary so that you can get started on your journaling adventures:
- Pick the easiest and most convenient way to journal. Notebooks, planners, notes app on your phone, excel sheets or documents on your computer, etc.
- Determine which metrics (food ingredients, pain, bowel movements, blood, etc.) you want to track and then pick an easy scaling system for data analysis (ex: pain today = 7).
- Don’t be intimidated to restrict your diet for a short amount of time to allow your body time to heal and to get a good base to start reintroducing foods.
- Reintroduce foods slowly/one at a time and give it a few days to determine if they have an effect on you.
- Every few days to a week, go back in your journal to see if there are any connections and correlations between certain foods and symptoms.
Overall, I know food journaling can be intimidating like I mentioned earlier. However, it is such a powerful tool to have in your IBD fighting arsenal. The insight it provides about your body and your ability to heal is amazing and makes it so worth the time and effort to do it. I admit that I don’t do it every day of my life but I know when to break out the skill when I need it most!
Do you guys food journal? What do you include in yours? What do you use to track everything? Let me know!