How To Keep a Food Journal: Tips To Discover Food Sensitivities

Medically reviewed on June 7, 2022 by Jordan Stachel, M.S., RDN, CPT. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

Like gas to a car, food is the fuel that moves your body. For those with a food sensitivity, filling your body with certain foods is like filling your car with the wrong gas- it's not going to work like it should. A food sensitivity could cause headaches, migraines, bloating, indigestion, stomach pain, and gastrointestinal distress. While these symptoms can be obvious, pinpointing the source of your symptoms isn't always so easy. That's where learning how to keep a food journal comes in.

A simple food journal or diary can serve as a useful organization tool to help you track what foods you consume, how you feel (including any unwanted symptoms), and how the two could be connected. Additionally, it's a resource for understanding food intake, tracking calories, and identifying eating habits that may contribute to emotional eating or food intolerance. Opting for an at-home food sensitivity test or comprehensive food sensitivity test (testing for over 200 foods) offers a swift and straightforward method to assess your reaction to a wide array of foods, presenting a valuable starting point. With or without a food sensitivity test, a food journal is crucial for identifying dietary triggers and aligning with your healthy eating goals. It's an active approach to food tracking and managing your diet effectively.

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How Does Food Journaling Work?

A food journal is a daily log used to document what food and drinks you consume each day. It's a tool for food tracking that promotes mindful eating by making you aware of your food choice and the benefits of maintaining healthy habits. By logging your diet and any symptoms you experience after eating those foods, you can work toward identifying patterns in how your body reacts to the food you consume on a daily basis.

This can then help you formulate an elimination diet in which you temporarily remove foods you suspect are contributing to unwanted symptoms. After a few weeks-many elimination diets, like FODMAP for irritable bowel syndrome, use four to six weeks- reintroduce them and monitor for changes in how you feel physically, mentally, and emotionally. The goal of food journaling is to help you figure out if a food is connected to any unwanted symptoms and manage health conditions effectively.

If you think you may have a food sensitivity, use the journal sheets below to begin your food journaling journey.

What Should Be In a Food Journal?

Just like many other health and wellness practices, your food journal should be unique to your needs. Before starting, ask yourself what your goals are and what information you need to meet them. For example, if you’re looking to lose weight, tracking your water intake, calories, and exercise could be a good place to start. On the other hand, if your goal is to find out what foods are causing you discomfort, writing down every ingredient and specific food, as well as tracking symptoms, could bring you closer to learning about your body’s response to certain foods.

So, what exactly should you record? Here are some questions to help you set up your food diary:

  • What are you eating? List every food group, snack, and beverage you consume and how it is prepared (baked, broiled, fried, etc.). Remember to include any spices, sauces, condiments, dressings, or toppings.
  • When are you eating? Writing down the specific times you eat can be very helpful in identifying potentially problematic foods. Because unwanted symptoms sometimes take hours to surface, knowing when you ate and what you ate last could identify culprits.
  • How much are you eating? Make note of your portion sizes and if possible, list the amounts of every food you consume in cups, teaspoons, tablespoons, or ounces.

How do you feel after you’ve eaten? Make note of any symptoms you may have after eating meals and throughout the day. Remember that food sensitivities can show up hours and even days after you consume a “problematic” food.

Simple Tips for Keeping a Food Journal

Identifying food sensitivities can be a challenge. Unlike a food allergy, where allergens trigger a severe immune response with a nearly immediate reaction time, symptoms of a food sensitivity can be delayed a few hours up to a few days following the ingestion of a trigger food. Because of this, people with food sensitivities can go a lifetime without ever knowing. Below we've listed a few tips for uncovering food sensitivities that could be affecting your health and mood.

Write Everything Down

If you have a busy lifestyle, it can be difficult to keep track of a food journal. However, writing down observations related to the foods and beverages you consume doesn't have to be complicated. You can even jot down notes in a spare notebook or log your food journal notes on your phone. Remember, it doesn't have to be a novel; you can keep it short and sweet. Make sure to note meals, snacks, and beverages consumed-you won't want to leave anything important out.

Stay Consistent

Stay the course! To uncover any food sensitivities, consistency is crucial. Set aside time after each meal or drink to quickly jot down what was consumed and how you're feeling. For the best results, monitor your diet over the course of a month. You can even set a reminder on your phone to record your meals if you find yourself forgetting.

Find Commonalities

For food journaling to work, it's important to pay attention to any commonalities or patterns that could link a certain food to a response. For instance, if you notice you feel bloated every time you have yogurt for breakfast, it may be time to temporarily eliminate dairy from your diet to see if that improves your symptoms.

Think About How You're Feeling

A thorough food journal not only tracks what you eat but also how you're feeling after meals and throughout the week. Make sure to take note of your mood, energy levels, or any changes in how you physically look or feel.

Be Honest

Make sure to be as honest as possible with your journaling. Remember, if everything in your diet looks “perfect”, it can be hard to identify patterns or potential trigger foods.

Take an At-home Food Sensitivity Test

If you're experiencing GI-related symptoms like bloating, abdominal pain, heartburn, gas, or migraines, a food sensitivity test may be a good option for you. This test measures your IgG immune response (reactivity) to different foods, and you can perform it from the comfort of your own home.

Our at-home Food Sensitivity Test can reveal your IgG immune response to 96 different foods, and our at-home Comprehensive Food Sensitivity Test assesses your reactivity to 204 foods. Each food is rated on a Class scale of 0-3: Class 0 (normal reactivity) to Class 3 (high reactivity). The results of this test can help you prioritize which foods to include in a temporary elimination diet with an add-back challenge.

To track your progress, download and print out the food sensitivity tracker below to log any triggering foods after discovering your food sensitivities. You can keep this sheet to remind you which foods to stay away from when planning and preparing your meals, or bring it to your primary healthcare provider for a more in-depth look at what may be causing your symptoms.

Benefits of Keeping a Food Journal

Food journaling comes with multiple benefits. When you learn how to keep a food diary, you're committing to a form of self-accountability that helps in managing weight and improving overall well-being.

Keeping food diaries allows you to track your daily food intake and maintain a detailed food record, which is crucial for identifying how certain foods impact your mental health and contribute to weight management. This habit can be especially beneficial for those monitoring blood sugar levels or managing diabetes, as it provides insight into how your body responds, like the occasional cookie, and helps steer you towards your weight loss goal.

By regularly consulting with a dietitian or registered dietitian, you can translate the data from your food journals into actionable steps that promote healthy eating habits. This practice helps in pinpointing unhealthy habits and replacing them with choices that pack in more nutrition for fewer calories.

Yet, it’s important to maintain a balanced perspective; while logging your food is a positive step, it shouldn't overshadow the pleasure of eating or dictate your life. A food diary is a tool, not a master, and should be used in a way that supports happiness and well-being.

Signs That You Should Start a Food Journal

Now that you know how to start a food journal, you might be wondering whether food journaling is right for you. While everyone is different, many people choose to start a food journal if they experience any of the following symptoms (and suspect they are related to food):

  • Headaches
  • Migraines
  • Bloating
  • Indigestion
  • Stomach pain
  • Gastrointestinal distress

What’s Next? Meal Planning With Food Sensitivities

Once you've discovered a food or foods that trigger unwanted symptoms, you may want to eliminate or reduce your consumption of that food to ensure you are fueling your body with ingredients that make you feel your best. When it comes to meal planning with food sensitivities, look for new recipes or substitutions that can help you feel satisfied and enjoy mealtime, but without the uncomfortable symptoms. Don't forget to explore related articles on food sensitivities for further insights and guidance on managing your dietary concerns.

We know that meal planning isn't always easy. To make grocery shopping and weekly meal planning less of a chore, try downloading our weekly meal planner below. The bottom line is that food sensitivities can be a pain-literally. So, consider giving food journaling a try! It can be a great way to not only figure out what foods are linked to your symptoms, but also help you create an overall healthier diet and lifestyle.

In addition to food journaling, taking an at-home Food Sensitivity Test or Comprehensive Food Sensitivity Test is a quick and easy way to test a broad set of foods and get results that can help guide a temporary elimination diet.

We understand that tracking, eliminating, or restricting foods can lead to or trigger disordered eating behavior in some people. For this reason, it is not recommended to take the Food Sensitivity test if you currently have or are in recovery for an eating disorder (such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder).

  1. Why keep a food diary? Harvard Medical School. Medical Citation URL. Accessed March 15, 2021.

Jordan Stachel, M.S., RDN, CPT is most fulfilled when guiding others towards making stepwise, sustainable changes that add up to big results over time. Jordan works with a wide variety of individuals, ranging in age from children to the elderly, with an assortment of concerns and clinical conditions, and has written for publications such as Innerbody. She helps individuals optimize overall health and/or manage disease states using personalized medical nutrition therapy techniques.
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