This post has been updated since it's original publication in January 2019.
When I take on a new client, part of the intake process is to gather a food journal. I like to have a full week's worth to get as clear a picture as possible, because often people eat very differently over the course of a weekend, than they do throughout the working week. Done properly journaling can really accelerate your healing so start the year afresh, download my free Food Journal template below, and prepare to see some positive results.
It's important to be brutally honest when you write your journal, even though you may have feelings of guilt or remorse. There's really no need to feel this way, the journal is merely a tool to help you reach your goal, and exaggerations and half-truths prevent you from seeing the whole picture. Looking back over your day to day intake may be an eye-opening experience if you've never tracked it before, so here are some pointers to bear in mind to help you get the most out of your journaling.
How to complete your journal
First things first - keep it simple so your journaling is easy to read and less overwhelming to do.
First column- write down what you ate. If you had a shepherd's pie for example, note the ingredients that went into it. Make a note of whether it was homemade, store bought or from a restaurant (and which one). It also helps to give a rough estimate as to how much of it you ate, for example 2 cups of shepherd's pie.
Second column- note your beverages, what you drank and, importantly, when you drank them. Did you drink with a meal for instance? Chug your liquids down or sip throughout the day?
Third column- log your supplements and medications. Even practitioner grade supplements often contain ingredients that can inflame the gut and/or overstimulate the immune system. As for medications, check out Pillbox - National Library of Medicine to see exactly what's in your prescription, and ask your doctor about having a compounding pharmacy reformulate if needs be.
Fourth column- perhaps the most important when you come to analyze, since this is for logging how you felt after eating - be it physically, mentally and/or emotionally. Here's where you'll be looking to see whether any patterns emerge, and ultimately work out whether a certain food or ingredient is the cause of any symptoms. This is also why 7 days worth of journaling is preferred because, whilst some reactions can be instantaneous, others may be cumulative over one, two, three or more days.
What exactly is your journal tracking?
- Quantity. How much are you eating? Just because you're eliminating foods does not mean you should go hungry
- Quality. Are you eating the vegetable rainbow and incorporating nutrient dense whole foods such as grass-fed meats, wild-caught fish, sea vegetables, healthy plant and animal fats, and organ meat wherever possible. Also let's be honest here - how many treats are you eating?
- Macronutrient ratio. Are you balancing your carbs (include starchy and non-starchy), protein and fats accordingly. The ratio that works for you will help manage any cravings, as well as your hormones and sleep regulation etc
- Timing. Are you allowing time between meals for digestion to take place. Is eating too close to bedtime preventing you from getting a good night's sleep? Remember eating too late forces the body to prioritize digestion above repair and regeneration
- Repetitive eating. Consuming the same foods day in, day out is a sure fire way to prompt your immune system to flag up seemingly innocent foods as foreign invaders. Sooner or later an attack is launched and hey presto, a sensitivity is born. Rotate your foods as much as you can
- Supplements/Medications. As mentioned above, many supplements and medications contain ingredients that we may have difficulty tolerating. If you feel something is causing you to react, do NOT stop taking medications without discussing with the relevant care provider first
- Hydration. Water is THE most important nutrient of all. With so many life-giving qualities it deserves (and will get) a post of its own
- Diuretics. Coffees, teas (including many herbals) and sodas are all diuretics, meaning they pull water (and nutrients) away from the body. If you don't drink enough water to compensate, you run the risk of becoming chronically dehydrated
- Bowel movements. How many. How often. Sink or float. Fully formed or on the loose side. Do you see undigested food particles? What colour and how smelly are they? What about how easy they are to produce? Look at them - after all this is what other mammals do, so they can determine the state of their health
- Energy. Is what you ingest impacting on your energy levels. Maybe there is no change, but think about whether a particular food energizes you, or perhaps even drags you down?
- Mood/Emotions. As above, are either or both affected as a result of consuming certain foods or beverages?
- Sleep. Are your sleep patterns affected by your dietary intake. Are you exhausted and practically asleep before your head touches the pillow. Or do you lie awake for hours, before sleep comes to you. Are you up in the middle of night, wide awake and unable to get back to sleep. How do you feel next morning. Was sleep restful or restless?
- Digestion. Do you experience any digestive symptoms. For example does something make you bloated, give you gut ache, heartburn/acid reflux, belching, gas, cause constipation or diarrhea?
- Pain. Are there certain foods that result in pain, such as in the joints, fingers, feet, ears, between the shoulder blades. Do you have headaches or hemorrhoids?
- Skin. Does anything cause itching, rashes, redness, eczema, psoriasis and so on. These issues are perhaps the trickiest of all to work out, since the skin is our first barrier of defence against foreign invaders and environmental assault. It is also usually the last thing to heal.
Tracking all these components will help you to work out whether your symptoms are indeed related to food. Look back and you should begin to see a correlation with foods you're consuming and how you feel afterwards. Bear in mind, though, that reactions can take several days to appear, especially if they are skin related. With a little research, you will see whether it's even certain food groups that are causing your issues, such as high histamine foods, or those high in FODMAPs, oxalates, phenols, salicylates etc. It's possible your symptoms are not wholly food related, which is why logging your sleep pattern is so important. I know from personal experience that a bad night's sleep will sometimes set me up for a gut-tender day!
Finally, it's essential to remember that journaling is not all about investigating possible sources of food reactions - it's equally important to make sure you are eating a balanced, nutrient dense diet. After all, remember that the AIP is not just about what we remove from the diet, but what we also put IN!
Has this post helped you to make a start on your own food journal? Daily recounting of our intake can, admittedly, be a little dull and time consuming, however hopefully you can now see the benefits and how journaling is a powerful tool for unveiling your symptoms. Start today and make life easier on yourself by downloading and printing out my free Food Journal template below.
Are you interested in working with me to address your symptoms on a deeper level? Take a look at my Work with Me Page.