How to Create a Food & Symptom Diary for Ulcerative Colitis

by Mandy Patterson Patient Expert

When you hear the word “diary,” you might think of a little notebook with a flimsy lock and key. But when you’re living with a chronic illness like ulcerative colitis (UC), a diary can be so much more — in fact, it can help you manage your condition. This diary will allow you to track your food, your symptoms, your poo, your emotional health, and anything else that relates to your UC. Follow these 10 steps to create a UC food and symptom diary specific to your needs.

Woman writing food library on a laptop.

Pick the platform

Part of the fun in creating a food diary is that you can personalize it to your needs. You can keep a diary almost anywhere you like — digital or physical — it just depends on your personal tastes. If you don’t like writing things down, don’t pick a notebook as your platform. If tech gives you the willies, don’t pick a super complex app for tracking.

Notepad to write down a food log.

Choose your tools

Now that you know whether you’re going digital or tangible, the next step is to pick your tool. If you chose digital, you can use a Google Document or OneNote document, a Word document, an app like MyFitnessPal, or even the Notes app on your phone.

If you’re going the tangible route, you can pick a notebook with an inspiring quote on the front, a Moleskine, a legal pad, a spiral notebook, or a composition notebook. Pick something you like and that expresses your personality.

Man thinking and scratching his head.

Determine what to track

You’ve got your platform and your chosen tool, so now it’s time to determine what to track. You don’t have to track every little thing, but it’s important to think about what information is the most beneficial to you.

Ask yourself: Are you only going to track your symptoms? Only your meals? Both? Are you going to track hours of sleep? Your weight? Emotions?

Track what makes the most sense to you.

Man writing in calendar book.

Decide how often to track

Say you decide to track your meals and your symptoms. Next, determine how often you want to track each element. One option is to track each meal and each symptom daily. You could also decide to track just meals daily, and your symptoms every other day — or vice versa. Decide on a cadence that not only makes sense, but that you can stick to without getting overwhelmed.

Breakfast lunch and dinner.

Create helpful categories

Say you have decided to track all your meals and symptoms every day. The next step? Making categories. This will help you create a template so you can fill in your information quickly.

For meals, make sections for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. For symptoms, enter things like guts, joints, head, muscles, and more. List out your problem areas, or where you experience symptoms the most. Then, you can quickly enter in your info or check off symptoms for the day without much thought.

List of goals in a notebook.

Set a goal

Establishing a tracking goal is important when creating your diary. This way, you have something you’re working toward and can reflect on over time. Make sure the goal isn’t too short-term — a goal to track for a day or even a week will likely be too short to tell you anything.

If you have an appointment with your gastroenterologist coming up in several months, make your goal something like, “I’m going to track my meals and my symptoms every day from now until my next appointment.”

Woman writing in a journal.

Get tracking

Now it’s time to track! You’ve got your tool set up and customized to focus on the things you care about, so now you can put pen to paper, or finger to screen or keyboard.

A helpful tip: It takes 21 days to form a new habit, so stick with your tracking! If you forget a day, go back and update it if you can. The more you track, the more data you’ll have to reflect on and learn from.

Working together on a list.

Review your data

Once you reach your goal, take some time to review your stats. If your goal was to track for three months, go back and reread what you wrote down during that time period. If you notice that every day you had corn, you also had bloating, corn might be a food you don’t tolerate well. If you notice that every day you avoided gluten, you had little to no symptoms, you might think about starting a gluten-free diet. Notice any trends or patterns, and make a note of them.

Woman talking to her doctor by a window.

Share with your care team

Share your findings! Review the relationships between food and symptoms you discovered with your care team, whether that’s your GI doctor, your psychiatrist, your significant other, or maybe your best friend. Show them what you found out. Your GI doctor may be able to use the data you gathered to help guide your treatment plan. Others might even be able to help hold you accountable, or help you make more mindful decisions when you go out to eat or cook at home.

Woman contemplating.


After a month of tracking, you will likely find ways to improve your diary and tracking process. For example, you may decide to stop tracking meals because your symptoms are the same regardless of what you eat. Or you might decide to start tracking your emotions throughout the day too. You could even find you hate the platform or tool you picked to create your diary and decide to start fresh. Whatever it is, make tweaks as you see fit to keep improving your diary and its benefits to your health.

Mandy Patterson
Meet Our Writer
Mandy Patterson

Mandy is a patient expert and advocate for ulcerative colitis and inflammatory bowel disease. She started down the road to advocacy after receiving an ulcerative colitis diagnosis in 2013, after experiencing complications of UC since 2010. She’s a full-time technical writer and technical writing instructor for Missouri State University, where she earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in professional writing. For her master’s thesis she wrote about the quality patient education materials for those diagnosed with UC, and the need for technical writers in the IBD medical field. Mandy is a Social Ambassador for the IBD HealthCentral Facebook page.