Starting a Food Journal for a GI Appointment

by Elizabeth Roberts Patient Expert

First, let's start with what a gastroenterologist is: A GI (as they are referred to) is a physician who specializes in the treatment of disorders of the gastrointestinal system which includes the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, colon, rectum, pancreas, gallbladder, liver, and bile ducts.

If you are having new or continuing problems that affect any of these internal organs, bowel movements, or potential food allergies, then it is most likely time to make an appointment with a gastroenterologist.

But, making the appointment is only the first step in helping your GI figure out what is ailing you. In my experience, most GI's I've worked with appreciate seeing my "food/mood journal."

I began to keep a food/mood journal back in 1997 when I was at my sickest before my diagnosis of Colitis. It is a good way for people who are having gastrointestinal problems to see potential patterns on paper.

In my journal I write down everything I eat or drink in the course of a day and I mean everything. Cheating in your food journal isn't going to help you or your doctor figure out what is wrong, so don't do it. If you ingest it then write it down, this should include prescription medications as well as over-the-counter remedies and any vitamin supplements that you take.

Additionally, take note of your bowel movements how many you have each day, their consistency, and what they look like diarrhea, dark or light color, hard to pass, normal, etc. Write down how you feel each day, throughout the day energetic, lethargic, happy, emotional, hormonal, crampy etc.
These moods will most likely change throughout your day, so be sure to note those changes as they occur.

There are online food journals and I'm sure there is even an app for that, but I made a simple 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 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 you and he or she 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 pointed toward Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).

Keeping a food/mood journal takes time and commitment. But the good news is, it's free and it may actually help you, and your physician, to understand what could be causing all or some of your gastrointestinal symptoms.
In my case, after seeing my journal, my GI was able to say that my bowel patterns and stool consistency were indicative of IBD. So, that helped to pinpoint the two most useful tests which ultimately confirmed the diagnosis.

I still keep a food/mood journal today (nearly 15 years later). It has become a part of my day because it helps me to pinpoint foods and activities that are helpful as well as those that aggravate symptoms or simply don't add anything positive to my health.

So, try keeping a food/mood journal. Who knows what you'll find

Elizabeth Roberts
Meet Our Writer
Elizabeth Roberts

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