Food journaling for IBS—Common mistakes and how to fix them
Food journals are an important tool for achieving many health goals. They help to keep us accountable and they can reveal habits that may not be serving our mental or physical wellbeing.
When it comes to overcoming digestive issues, things get a little more complicated. Because there are so many possible factors that contribute to symptoms, simply writing down the food you eat isn’t always enough. Without knowing what to write down and how to assess that information, you may find yourself eliminating food after food without experiencing lasting relief. And let me tell you, I’ve been there! For journaling to be effective, it must become your problem-solving sidekick. If you know what to record, how to record it, and how to use that information to better your health, you’ll learn to understand the inner-workings of your unique digestive system. And in doing so, you’ll be one step closer to lasting relief.
Today’s blog post aims to do just that. We will review the most common food journaling mistakes among those with IBS or other digestive disorders, and we’ll teach you how to change your approach so that you can actually benefit from all that time and energy you’re putting in! Efficiency and effectiveness are the names of the game, my friends.
Mistake # 1 — You track almost everything
One of the most common errors I see when people begin food journaling is poor accuracy. What I mean by this is forgetting to include the little things. Many people omit small bites of food here and there or a little sip of a beverage, assuming these things won’t make a difference. But for individuals with sensitive tummies, this couldn’t be further from the truth! Not only is it possible for digestion to be affected by small amounts of trigger foods, but small bites add up to much bigger portions over the course of a day or week.
To change this, start tracking everything. Seriously, record every bit of food and drink that touches your lips. If something seems inconsequential, write it down. Food journals are such an effective tool because they help reveal patterns that we don’t otherwise notice. By recording anything and everything, you’ll get a much more accurate picture of your eating and drinking patterns, and you will be better equipped to make changes. Consider these commonly ‘forgotten’ items:
- Milk, sugar or sweetener in coffee
- Candies or mints
- Chewing gum
- Carbonated drinks and alcohol
- Serving sizes
Accuracy is key. If you are not already a diligent tracker, you will likely start to notice just how many hidden foods you’re eating each week.
Mistake # 2 — You only track food
A common misconception about journaling for better digestive health is that you should only track food and drink. We see this all the time among our Clairity members, and it’s an important error to work to correct! Here at Clairity, we are constantly speaking about the complexity of digestive disorders and how tackling uncomfortable symptoms requires a multifaceted approach. FODMAPs, eating behaviors, exercise, stress, supplements and so much more comes into play. That is why we encourage everyone in the Clairity Digestive Program (and you!) to track more comprehensively. You are welcome to customize this to your unique needs and preferences, but you may consider including some or all of the following:
- Symptoms* (this is critical!)
- Sleep quality
- Bowel movements
- Stressors and anxiety
The more information you have available, the more you can uncover about your current habits and how they may be impacting your digestive health. Remember, digestion is affected by much more than FODMAPs, and you may soon reveal that your triggers extend far beyond the food you eat.
Mistake # 3 — You never look back
Maybe you’re already a diligent and thorough tracker. You always remember to write down everything and recording your food and symptoms has become second nature. That’s what we love to see! But do you know what to do with that information? A common pitfall is forgetting (or not knowing how) to look back on journal entries to assess trends. After all, writing down every food, symptom, and feeling you experience is most helpful if it moves you toward better wellbeing!
What you want to do is periodically review your journal entries and look for trends. A helpful way to do this may be by starting with symptoms. Look at when you experienced symptoms and take note of their severity. From there, start assessing the hours and days leading up to each uncomfortable event. Ask yourself: What did I eat? Where was I? How was I feeling? All of these questions and more may help you realize commonalities between seemingly separate symptom occurrences. If you don’t notice trends that week, take note and compare to previous weeks. This process may take some time. It’s also worth noting times when your digestion was great (don’t forget to track this, too). Follow a similar process to uncover what you were eating and doing leading up to that digestive bliss. What were you doing right? This information is equally helpful for creating new habits and finding relief!
Assessing your journal is probably the trickiest part. If you want support on this, we are always here to help. We have years of experience doing this for members of the Clairity Digestive Program, and we know exactly what to look for!
Mistake # 4 — You don’t make any changes
Doing the work to uncover your digestive triggers is an exhausting process. And I know how frustrating it can be to spend so much time and energy trying to uncover the root cause of your symptoms. This is your gentle reminder to avoid this last food journaling mistake—failing to take action on what you’ve learned! If you have reached the point where you can see foods and situations that may be causing you digestive distress, it’s important to start making changes! You will only return to a life free from uncomfortable symptoms if you change the habits that are ailing you. It can be especially helpful to work with a digestive dietitian or within a program like Clairity to better understand a clear plan of action.
Practice, not perfection
I hope these tips have helped you gain confidence in your ability to write a symptom-smashing food journal. It can be an incredibly effective tool if you know how to use it correctly!
Before you go, I want to remind you that the purpose of journaling your food, activities, and symptoms is not to create guilt over your habits. Not at all. We are all human and we all make less than ideal choices for ourselves. Instead, I want you to approach a food journal with compassion and curiosity. It’s simply there to reveal sources of digestive discomfort. The important thing is not to eat ‘perfectly’. It is to continue working toward better health and habits so that you can return to a comfortable life. If you need help and support in this process, we are always here. You can read more about the Clairity Digestive Program here or email us to learn if it’s right for you. In the meantime, come hang out with us on Instagram for loads of free resources, tips and support!
Wishing you well,
Digestive Nutrition Educator