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A food journal can be used to mean many things and often it is used in the context of trying to lose weight or count calories. But it can be far more than that.
Why Track What You Eat?
During this Thrive in 65 series, we have suggested several times to track food intake and note digestive symptoms. That’s because the way that food makes you feel can often be a primary way to determine if something needs to change with your diet.
With the hectic nature of busy living, we don’t always remember these things or even pay attention to patterns until they become pervasive or a notable problem develops. By tracking food intake and how you feel, you can notice small changes or patterns that might otherwise be missed. This is a way to be proactive about your health, and avoid having to be reactive once an issue becomes severe.
Nutritionists and dietitians typically use a 24-hour recall, but even people with the best intentions rarely remember with clarity what they ate over the previous day or two. Keeping track of what you eat as you eat it, as well as how you feel throughout the day, can be a helpful diagnostic tool.
Best Ways to Keep a Food Journal
There are many approaches to keeping a food journal. Often nutrition professionals will have their own food journal form, but if you are not working with one, you can use this as a guide for getting started.
You can use an old-fashioned notebook, a note on your smartphone/computer, or an app designed for tracking all things relating to your diet. Some apps include:
Whether you do it in a notebook or an app, the purpose of it all is the same. Your food journal should include:
- What you eat and the portion size, as well as the time of day. When addressing some health conditions, like diabetes in any form, noting the exact time you started eating can be helpful.
- Supplements and medications, dose, and when taken
- Water and other beverages, how much, and approximately when consumed
For a fuller picture, include notes on other health-related factors, such as:
- Bowel movements (simply a time of day could work, but if you’re trying to address problems relating to elimination, you may also note consistency, color, and frequency)
- Headaches (how often, when, and how long they last; if they are your primary health reason for tracking, describe severity and type)
- Other physical symptoms that are relevant to you or could be related to food, such as bloating, gas, indigestion, joint pain, fatigue, and so on.
It’s important to note that you are not doing a food journal to track your calories. This is the primary downside with using an app, as many of them will often place an unnecessary focus on calories. You can ignore that.
The helpful features that apps offer include the tracking of protein, carbohydrates, and fats, as well as other nutrients that you get from your diet (vitamins, minerals, amino acids, etc.). Ultimately, your calorie intake should not be determined by an app or by a preset notion of what is appropriate for your weight and height. A nutrition professional should consider your health and your physical needs and establish a healthy energy range—but basing your entire food plan around what calories you’re “allowed” to have is an outdated notion that does not prioritize nourishment. In order for your body to get the nutrients that it needs, you need to eat enough food. This rarely happens if you’re too worried about eating too many calories.
So, use apps as a convenient way to track your food versus writing it in a notebook if you desire, but don’t let them replace personalized nutrition counseling if you need it. (Should you need to find a professional in the natural health community, we have a directory to guide you.)
As you keep your food journal, in whatever format you choose, you’ll build a bigger picture of how food affects you. This is invaluable if you are having digestive issues or other health problems that could benefit from dietary intervention.
Today’s Simple Step
If you’ve never kept a food journal before, consider the various ways you can do it and try one out today. Write down what you eat, how you feel, and even jot down any questions you would have if you were showing it to a nutritionist. For example, if you eat certain foods and then seem to experience indigestion frequently, make a note to ask your nutritionist if this is a common acid reflux trigger or whether you may be sensitive to a particular food. By presenting a food journal with symptoms, it could help a health professional determine whether you need food allergy testing or if the problem is related to something else, like low stomach acid.
This Japanese-Style Cucumber Salad is a light, digestive-friendly dish that can be served as an appetizer, a side dish, or a quick snack.