I will be the first one to admit it, I used to cringe when health professionals would tell me to keep a food journal to find my triggers and rule out allergies to certain foods I was eating. Who lugs a journal with them everywhere they go? As much as I resisted, I finally gave in after realizing that my daily digestive concerns were most likely linked to something I was putting in my body. And what a life-changing decision that was! I discovered that after I ate my egg white omelet with Go-Veggie cheese on whole wheat bread, my stomach was so distended that I would look five months pregnant. My snacks throughout the day consisted of Chobani yogurt and granola, both of which I recorded made my stomach churn and made me feel fatigued. I realized that every time I ate my go-to vegetable and tofu stir-fry for dinner, I would get migraines and experience bloating. After a few months of food journaling, I realized that wheat, soy, and processed foods were my triggers. And even though I was diagnosed with lactose intolerance at a young age, I clearly didn't take my allergy seriously since I was making exceptions for greek yogurt and the occasional Yogurtland (because a girl needs her probiotics and active yogurt cultures, right?!).
Over time, I cut out my triggers and began "crowding out," or incorporating more healthy foods to my diet, in addition to what I was already consuming. The theory of "crowding out" is that as long as you eat the healthier choices first, your body will be getting those important nutrients regardless of what follows on your plate and you'll end up eating less of the bad foods you crave. The idea is not to force yourself to give up anything, which helps to ease into the transition! And believe me, it works!
So before I ate my egg white omelet with dairy-free cheese, I would drizzle coconut milk yogurt and unsweetened coconut over a bowl of fresh organic berries. After one week, I was so satisfied from the fruit that I didn’t crave the cooked omelet anymore, which meant there was no need to eat that dreadful soy, canola, modified food starch, modified cheese flavor, carrageenan-filled Go Veggie cheese. Yuck! After experimenting with a myriad of recipes and learning about the harmful ingredients I was putting into my body, I transitioned to whole, unprocessed, and real foods, as close as possible to their natural state. I was able to eliminate bread, yogurt, granola, tofu, soy sauce, soy milk, and almost all processed foods over a two-month period because I felt new stores of health, energy and vitality like never before. I took my health into my own hands and was able to do so with the help of my food journal.
So, now it's your turn!
Whether you have digestive issues, a skin disorder, or are simply trying to change your eating habits, it is vital to keep a food journal to keep track of certain foods and lifestyle habits that seem to trigger digestive distress, acid reflux symptoms, inflammation, or interfere with your health goals. Not only will this help you modify your own behavior and symptoms, but it is also a wonderful way to help me guide you more effectively on your path to optimal health.
Try noting how you feel both physically and emotionally before, during and after meals and beverages. If you happen to miss recording a meal, don’t stress! You can always pick up where you left off. Once you begin to make clear connections between physical symptoms, emotions, and food – you may find that you no longer need to record everything you eat. Remember, the more detailed you are, the more accountable you will be to yourself!
Here are a few tried and true steps to food journaling that I recommend you try out, especially for those of you who are trying to rule out a food allergy:
1. Find a Small Notebook. You want to find a handy, durable and compact notebook that you can carry with you at all times.
2. Positive Affirmations and Quotes. Putting inspirational affirmations and quotes throughout your journal on the first day you get it keeps you motivated and uplifted. There is nothing better than coming across these messages at times when you need it the most, especially on those days when you want to give-in to a trigger food!
3. Set a Realistic Timeline. Decide how long you plan to record your observations in your journal. I recommend you try this journal out together for one month. That should give us enough time for you to notice your patterns and increase your awareness of what, how much, and why you are eating.
4. Take Notes. Each time you experience any gas, gurgling, a bout of heartburn coming on, or skin irritation, note the symptoms, timing, foods you ate, and other activities that may have caused it.
5. Recognize Your Symptoms. Record and describe the physical symptoms you experience, such as: abdominal pain, cramps, gas, heartburn, regurgitation, particles of food coming back up, nausea, coughing, fatigue, insomnia, shakiness, high energy, or skin irritation. Record and describe emotional symptoms, such as anxious, depressed, restless, energized, agitated, irritable, calm, or happy. Try your best to rate the intensity of the symptoms, such as mild, moderate, or severe.
6. Watch the Clock. Note the time that your symptoms occurred—when they started and approximately how long they lasted. Look for patterns, especially if you suffer from acid reflux. See whether or not you are more prone to heartburn in the morning or in the evening. If this is the case, you might try to avoid trigger foods at this specific time.
7. Log Your Foods. Consider not only what you ate prior to experiencing symptoms, but what you ate earlier in the day, as well. Always look for triggers and begin limiting or avoiding the foods that seem to trigger your symptoms. Watch out for these common triggers: fried foods, processed meats, gluten, dairy, processed baked foods, coffee, and alcohol, artificial sweeteners, cream-based sauces; spicy foods, citrus fruits and juices, and chocolate.
8. Don’t Get Hung Up On Calories. If you have to research every single calorie count of your foods and drinks, chances are you’ll give up. I sure did. It took me about five years to successfully food journal. I recommend making note of the portion sizes and the macronutrients.
9. Consider Other Habits. Other behaviors can make a difference, as well. The following habits can trigger symptoms or interfere with your health goals: Lying down too soon after meals; exercising too soon after meals; consuming large meals; eating too quickly; wearing tight fitting clothes; stress; boredom; and sadness.
10. Have Fun With It!