How to Make Food Diaries Less of a Pain With UC

by Megan McMorris Health Writer

Look, you’re thinking. I’ve already got a hectic job, crazy family, and chronic condition called ulcerative colitis to stay on top of. Now you want me to keep track of meals in a food diary, too? Yes, is the answer. And you’ll thank us in the long run. There are legit reasons for logging the things you eat—and it doesn’t have to be as big of a pain as you’re thinking (promise!). For starters, it can help you decipher what foods to break up with and which ones might be your new best buds.

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While UC, an inflammatory disease of the colon that can lead to abdominal pain, bleeding, and discomfort, isn’t caused by food per se, eating the wrong thing can trigger a flare. “Certain foods can irritate the GI tract,” says Durga Sunitha Posina, M.D, an internal medicine specialist in Stony Brook, NY. “You want to pinpoint what food regimens work well for you so you can minimize flares—that’s why food journals are important.” Keeping tabs on your meals doesn’t have to be a total drag. Follow these rules for pain-free journaling.

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Find Your Food Diary Personality

In order to stick with an exercise routine, you need to find an activity you enjoy—and the same concept applies for food journaling, says Dr. Posina. Are you a notebook person or computer geek? Do you prefer making list or writing essay-style? “There are so many options these days, it’s all about finding something that works for you,” she says. If technology is your thing, new apps are making it easier than ever to quickly log your meals—some are specifically tailored to UC. Two to check out: GI Monitor and GI Buddy.

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Go for the Nitty Gritty

Sorry, but it’s not enough to write down that you ate tuna for lunch today. “It’s not just the foods you want to record—the time, quantity, and how the food was prepped is also important,” says Dr. Posina. “Did the sandwich come with a side of processed foods like chips? Was the food fried versus grilled? All these things factor in. Maybe it’s the exact way oil is used in the food preparation that you’re not tolerating, for example. It’s important to isolate and identify all of these details.”

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Log It When You Eat It

One reason food diaries can feel so tedious is that people wait until bedtime to write down their meals that day. Let’s face it: Who can remember what they ate at 7 a.m.?! And even if you recall the basics, “you won’t necessarily remember all the details,” says Gabriela Gardner, R.D., a dietician in gastroenterology and hepatology at Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston. Get into the habit of logging your meals when you eat them. You’ll be journaling more often, but it’ll be 10 times quicker (and more accurate).

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Quantify It

No argument here: Keeping a tally on your number of trips to the bathroom in a day sucks. But the devil is in the details with UC and knowing if you hit the loo fives times after eating a bowl of chili, versus twice with a plate of plain rice, can tell you—and your doc—a lot about possible UC triggers. “It’s also useful to note symptoms and pain on a scale of one to five,” suggests Dr. Posina. Having hard numbers to refer back to can help you spot possible trigger patterns.

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It’s OK to Miss a Day

We get it: Life is busy, and sometimes you can’t pause to document every morsel that passes through your mouth. No sweat—think of the larger picture instead. “Don’t beat yourself up if you skip a day—ultimately, what we’re trying to do is figure out patterns in the long-run,” says Dr. Posina. “Even if your journaling varies, and you skip a day or even a week, it’s much better than not journaling at all, because at least we can draw some conclusions about patterns.”

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Create a Liquids Column

Did you have a skim latte this morning? Was that red wine you drank with dinner last night? Jot it down! “People sometimes forget that what they drink is just as important,” says Gardner. But coffee and soda can sometimes cause irritation, so it’s good to keep tabs. An easy way to do this: Divide your daily diary entry into food/beverage boxes. This makes it easier to quickly glance back and note any patterns between what you drank and UC symptoms.

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Your Mood Matters

Was that extra trip to the bathroom because of the spicy deli sandwich you ate for lunch, or is it because you’re under deadline pressure at work? How you feel emotionally (especially related to stress) can play a significant role in how your body behaves, but you won’t know for sure what’s causing the chaos unless you note your mental state along with your meals. “Ultimately, the goal is to identify what is triggering your symptoms, and emotions can also play a part of that just like food can,” says Dr. Posina.

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Keep Some Perspective

When you reach the point where you feel like you never want to log again, it’s time to take a break. Here’s the thing: Once you’ve established a baseline of cause-and-effect (which might take a few weeks or months), your food journal can become more of a once-in-a-while tune-in to detect flares. “It’s not always the case that you need to keep a journal, if you’re feeling well and are managing your symptoms,” says Gardner. “So think of it as a short-term route to wellness instead.”

Meet Our Writer
Megan McMorris