Five Reasons to Keep a Food Journal
Your schedule, packed with meetings and conference calls, overtakes the lunch hour. Thankfully, someone ordered in sandwiches and salads at the last minute. You return to your office between meetings, grab a gluten free cookie from your stash, a cup of coffee, and head to the boss’s office. An hour later, you find yourself spending the rest of the afternoon in the restroom.
What went wrong?
While you swear never to eat such and such again, a wave of nausea comes over you, and your fingers begin to tingle. You put a cool paper towel behind your neck and head for home, wondering if you have a fever. After picking up the kids, you head to the soccer field, eating a handful of almonds to try to get something back in your system. You arrive home, exhausted from the day, somewhere between starving and never wanting to eat again. You heat up a bowl of soup, eat it gingerly, and although everything seems fine, you wake up suddenly in the middle of the night with abdominal pain.
The next morning, you ponder what could have happened. While it could have been directly due to the food you ate, you wonder if it was a stomach bug. You might even attribute the reaction to the stress of the day, as you replay it all in your mind.
While any of those causes may have triggered a less-than-friendly digestive response, there are a variety of other reasons that could be the culprit. For example, there’s the possibility of cross-contamination from where the foods were prepared. It’s also possible that that a different food or ingredient could have triggered a reaction, due to cross-reactivity (this occurs when a food “looks like” gluten to your body, so it fights it off, triggering a response). You may have an undiagnosed sensitivity to another food, or the reaction may even represent another underlying health condition. Without identifying the source of the reaction, you may tend to repeat it, or even shrug it off as something less than important.
The scenario described above is not all that uncommon in the realm of those dealing with gluten sensitivity. What would you do differently the next day to ensure it didn’t happen again? With our busy lives, it can be extremely difficult to identify the exact cause of our discomfort. Sometimes, symptoms may not appear for several days after exposure to gluten. In that case, it can be even more difficult to try to track backwards or recognize the cause.
It’s extremely important for good long term health to identify the source of any reaction and eliminate it. Every exposure to gluten, or to what the body thinks is gluten, can prevent full healing of the immune system.
Food journaling is a great way to aspire to optimal health through proper eating. Whether you are just starting out on your gluten free journey, or to improve any aspect of your health, here are five great reasons to keep a food journal:
Know your body
Knowledge is power! Do you know specifically how your body reacts to different foods? Not everyone reacts to gluten digestively; there may be other impacts that surprise you. By writing down everything you consume (eat, drink, chew, ingest, medications, vitamins, etc.) and how you feel each day (including sleep pattern, skin changes, moods, and fatigue level), you will begin to identify the relationship between what you eat and how you feel. This will also help identify foods, products, or restaurants that may not be safe for you on a regular basis.
Establish what works (and what doesn’t)
Food journaling reveals patterns and habits that might be keeping you ill. If you have a reaction every time you order from ABC sweet shop, even if they say it’s gluten free, there’s something going on there that you need to leave behind (examples of this could include issues with cooking sprays, cross-contaminated pans, or the use of flours from non-dedicated gluten free processors). If you have a headache every Thursday evening, which happens to coincide with a favorite coffee you purchase the same day, you may want to consider eliminating that for a couple of weeks (or at least changing the location or type of item you are consuming). On the positive side, if you find that you feel great when you have eggs for breakfast, you’ll want to consider establishing that as a core item to your routine.
Build Confidence and Celebrate
As you start applying this new-found knowledge, you’ll also be tracking success factors. Things like weight loss, experiencing a pain-free morning, good lab numbers from the doc, or enjoying an extended period of time without a digestive issue are all positives that will build your confidence. Every sixty to ninety days, review any progress and celebrate! You will be more focused on the positive, which can also fuel further success. (Tip: If you are striving for weight loss, did you know that this study by Kaiser Permanente found that those who kept a food journal DOUBLED their weight loss as compared to the other participants?)
Ensure adequate intake and balance
Since what we can eat might seem limited at times, I’ve found that there are two “traps” that can easily occur: 1) Not eating enough, and 2) Imbalanced eating (for example, just eating meat and potatoes, or too much fruit). Our body has a tendency to take the path of least resistance. Since preparing food can be time consuming, and vegetables don’t always have the allure of a starchier option, it can be easy to skip a meal or two, or fall into a pattern of imbalance. By focusing on what you CAN have, ensuring a healthy balance of fruits and vegetables in your diet, and addressing any nutritional deficiencies through vitamins or supplements, food journaling can even ease your cravings and keep you on track. Eat to live – it’s for your good health!
Ahhhh, the “A” word. Yes, it’s there. A food journal WILL keep you at least self-accountable, and will likely even lead you to the “D” word…discipline! That’s why keeping a food journal may not be an easy task, but it’s the most important. For our own good health, we need to be disciplined in saying “no” to the things that harm us. Fortunately, the accountability you gain in the process can be applied in multiple ways. Being accountable to another person or group will help you stay on track to accomplishing your goals, and even help identify other areas of success that you may not realize (more reasons to celebrate!) You may gain better health results than you even expected, just by eliminating foods that impact you negatively. A food journal also provides valuable information when speaking with your doctor about your overall health.
Options for Food Journaling
There are a variety of options for food journaling; choose something that is easily accessible and that can be done consistently. For a busy mom, that might be a little notebook tucked in the pocket of her coat, where she can make notes while waiting at the soccer game. For those with an office job, typing it into an excel spreadsheet is an easy way to keep it at hand. For smart phone users, there are multiple free apps that work as food and exercise trackers. My personal favorite is My Fitness Pal, where you can track food, caloric intake, exercise, weight, and measurements. It’s a free app, and you can connect with friends to help encourage you along the way; the privacy settings can be changed to show more or less of your personal information. You can even print out reports, which can be helpful when sharing or analyzing the information.
Do you already use a food journal? If so, how has it helped your journey? Do you have a favorite app or method to share?
~Jen Cuevas of The Gluten & Grain Free Gourmet LLC