How to Keep a Food Journal to Discover Food Sensitivities

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. Symptoms of a food sensitivity could include headaches, migraines, bloating, indigestion, stomach pain, and gastrointestinal distress. While these symptoms can be obvious, pinpointing the source of your symptoms can be difficult since we’re often exposed to many different types of food on a given day.

This is where food journaling comes in. A simple food journal can serve as a useful organization tool to help you track what foods you are consuming, how you feel (including any unwanted symptoms), and how the two could be connected. Read on to see exactly how to keep a food journal to help identify food sensitivities that may be contributing to your discomfort.

How Does Food Journaling Work?

food-sensitivity-mock1 A food journal is a daily log used to track what food and drinks you consume each day. It can help you understand your eating habits, identify unwanted symptoms, and inform the best diet decisions when it comes to you and your body. 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 a temporary elimination diet where 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 4-6 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 an unwanted symptom that you are experiencing.

If you think you may have a food sensitivity, use the journal sheets below to begin your food journaling journey. food-sensitivity-btn1

Signs That You Should Start a Food Journal

food-sensitivity-signs There are several reasons that you may want to begin food journaling. Regardless of whether you suspect a food or foods may be causing unwanted symptoms, there are many benefits of food journaling. It can not only help you identify patterns in how certain foods make you feel, but it can also encourage accountability when making dietary changes to improve your overall health and lifestyle.

By self-monitoring your eating behaviors, you become more mindful of your consumption. With this, you can track your relationship with food, jot down your progress to reaching dietary goals (like limiting your sweetened beverage consumption), or identify foods that just make you feel better.

Among the most common reasons for food journaling? Experiencing any of the following symptoms (and suspecting they are related to food):

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

Simple Tips for Effective Food Journaling

food-sensitivity-mock2 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 days following the ingestion of a trigger food. Because of this, people who have food sensitivities can go a lifetime without ever knowing. However, food sensitivities can affect your health and mood, making them important to discover. Below we’ve listed a few tips for uncovering food sensitivities.

  • Write everything down: If you have a busy lifestyle, it can be difficult to keep track of a food journal, but we encourage you to make it a priority to write down observations related to the foods and beverages you consume. You can even 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.
  • 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 every time you have yogurt for breakfast you feel bloated, 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 will not just track what you ate, but how you’re feeling after your 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 you’re being honest with your journaling. Remember, if everything in your diet looks “perfect,” it could 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 or gas, and/or migraines, a food sensitivity test may be a good option for you. This test will measure your IgG immune response (reactivity) to different foods. Our at-home Food Sensitivity Test will reveal your IgG immune response to 96 different foods and our at-home Comprehensive Food Sensitivity Test will assess your reactivity to 204 foods. Each food will be 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 for your diet after discovering your food sensitivities. You can keep this sheet to remind you what 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.

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What’s Next? Meal Planning With Food Sensitivities

food-sensitivity-mock3 food-sensitivity-btn3 Once you’ve discovered a food or foods that trigger unwanted symptoms, you may want to eliminate or reduce your consumption 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.

Ingredients like eggs, cow’s milk, and gluten are among the most common foods people have a high immune reactivity to. Below, we’ve listed simple substitutions for these foods for easy reference when planning and preparing your meals.

Simple food substitutions:

Egg (both white and yolk) protein substitutions:

  • Tofu scramble (tip: use extra firm tofu)
  • Chicken or turkey sausage
  • Yogurt (non-dairy or cow’s milk)
  • Nut butter (on toast or sweet potato)

Egg substitutes to use in baking:

  • 1 tablespoon chia seed + 3 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed + 3 tablespoons water
  • ½ of a medium banana, mashed
  • ¼ cup of applesauce (or another fruit puree)

Cow’s milk:

  • Non-dairy based milk and coffee creamers like almond, hemp, rice, oat, soy, coconut, flaxseed, and cashew
  • Non-dairy ice creams made from similar plant-based foods
  • Vegan butter (made from plant-based oils)

Gluten:

  • Gluten-free bread, crackers, and snacks
  • Pseudograins, or plants that are not grains botanically but resemble grains, are inherently gluten-free. Examples include quinoa, amaranth, and buckwheat.
  • Other gluten-free options include millet, teff, cassava, sorghum, rice, potato, corn, gluten-free oats, and lentil- or bean-based pasta.

Garlic:

  • Yellow, white, or red onions
  • Chives, green onions, scallions, shallots, or leeks
  • Pepper, cumin, or other seasoning spices
  • Lemon zest

The bottom line is that food sensitivities can literally be a pain. 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.

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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).

Everlywell makes lab testing easy and convenient with at-home collection and digital results in days. Learn More