Keeping a Food Journal

by Elizabeth Roberts Patient Expert

I get a lot of questions from people asking me what a food journal is and why they should consider keeping one. So, I've decided to try and answer these questions in this Sharepost.

Food journal or food diary is the nice name I've come up with so I can more easily discuss this method in polite company. But, in all honesty, I first started keeping one I called it my poop diary and prayed that nobody but me and my doctor would ever read it.

Whatever you want to call it, a food journal is a good way for people who are having gastrointestinal problems to see potential patterns on paper. In my poop diary I wrote down everything I ate or drank in the course of a day, and I mean everything. Cheating in your food journal isn't going to help you so don't, if you ingest it then write it down, this should even include Rx medications and OTC remedies that you take. Additionally, I took note of my bowel movements - how many I had each day, their consistency, and what they looked like - diarrhea, dark colored, light colored, hard to pass, normal, etc. Writing down how I felt each day, throughout the day, was also a part of my journal - energetic, lethargic, happy, emotional, hormonal, crampy etc.

I actually went so far as to make a template on my computer where I set-up a fill-in-the blank type document. I had specific spaces so I could list out what I ate and drank for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. I also left room after each meal or snack so I could recount how I felt because there were many days where I might start out feeling well and energetic and by days end I felt poopy, lethargic, and grumpy. I was also losing weight so I noted my weight every Monday.

Keeping a food journal for at least 2 weeks is good, but keeping it for a month or two is even better. What I was able to notice when I kept my food journal was that certain foods seemed to make some of my symptoms worse. It also became apparent when reading through my food journal that I typically had the worst time with diarrhea in the first two hours after I woke up and often during the middle of the night, and severe abdominal cramping was most prevalent about an hour after eating dinner. Stress always made my bowel movements more frequent and less formed.

It was very convenient to be able to take my poop journal with me to appointments with my gastroenterologist. This way he could actually see, on paper, what I was experiencing every day. It's nice to think that we're going to remember exactly how we've felt in the past week or month. But, when sitting in a doctor's office, possibly feeling pretty well that day, and knowing that he or she is only going to give you 10-15 minutes of their time, it's nice to have your problems or symptoms laid out in writing for them to see. This actually helped my doctor very much in deciding what diagnostic tests to run, and it also showed that I had two different symptom patterns going on, one that pointed to Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) and one that point toward Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).

After going through a battery of tests I was diagnosed with both Ulcerative colitis and IBS. Even after my diagnoses I continued to keep my poop journal, especially while I went through an Elimination diet (see my Sharepost from Oct. 29 to learn more about this). The journal really helped me to determine what foods were definitely causing my symptoms to worsen and which foods seemed to be helpful. I was also able to see that sometimes my UC symptoms flared-up for no apparent reason, while my IBS symptoms were very stress and anxiety related.

Keeping a food journal is very easy, it's free, and it may actually help you to understand what could be causing all or some of your gastrointestinal symptoms.

Good luck

Elizabeth Roberts
Meet Our Writer
Elizabeth Roberts

Elizabeth wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Digestive Health.