food journal

This is the Part 2 of Food Allergy Detective: a multipart blog series on how to uncover food allergies or sensitivities.

Part 2: Food Allergy Detective – Keeping An Effective Food Journal

This is no ordinary journal.  It is a journal that will help you find patterns and subtle reactions are are not obvious unless you are paying attention to all the signs your body puts out.

I recommend getting a smaller sized spiral notebook that you can easily carry around with you.  I’m a huge fan of technology, but unless you can access your electronic notes everywhere and can easily type in the information you discover, then I found that a handwritten spiral notebook is more effective so you can write things down when they’re happening.  This way you don’t have to rely on your memory – which is never as accurrate as we want it to be – to record every little detail needed to uncover hidden food issues.

In your journal, take note of the following:

  • How you feel when you wake up.
  • What supplements, vitamins, or medications you are taking, when you take them, and in what dosages.
  • Specifically what you eat, how you feel about what you’re eating, when you eat it.  And this includes everything.  There’s no judgement here.  No one else will read this unless you show it to them.  So be extremely accurate here.  Every little bit of food, candy, spice, flavoring, sweetener, or item that you eat or drink record in your journal.
  • How you feel before and after you eat.
  • How you feel before and after you drink.
  • How you feel throughout the day.
  • What food cravings you have and when they occur.
  • Sleep patterns. When you wake up, when you go to bed, and how well you sleep.
  • Bowel movements. Are are they regular?  When do they occur?  What are they like? (Loose stools, solid stools, difficult to go, diarrhea, pain, discomfort, etc.)
  • Other digestive issues: gas, bloating, burping, nausea, discomfort.
  • Emotional and physical responses you have such as low energy, low motivation, brain fog, lack of focus, irritability, nausea, weight gain, anxiety, weight loss, lymph node soreness, swelling, bloating, racing heart, dizziness, headaches, itchy eyes, runny nose, digestive issues, etc.
  • How much you weigh each morning when you first get up and at night before you go to bed.
  • Seemingly random things you may notice like hair loss, joint pain, eye twitching, numbness or tingling in fingers/toes, and other ailments and when you notice them.
  • Fluctuations in hormone levels, stress levels, anger, crying, or changes in menstrual cycle.
  • And any other way you feel, symptoms you notice, or other perhaps seemingly small body reactions you find throughout each day and when they happen.

Since food can positively and negatively impact your body, your brain, and your mood you want to get as much information down in your journal as possible.  After 30 days, this will give you an amazing window into how you react to food and the items you consume.  And, it will help unveil patterns that occur that would have otherwise remained hidden.

After 30 days, go back and look for patterns.  Keep in mind that you may have a delayed reaction to a food, so don’t just look for immediate reactions as they can happen up to three days after ingesting a particular allergen.

Following are a few big red flags that alert you to food challenges:

Food cravings.

The more intense the craving, the more likely the food causing the craving is a food that is working against you.  For example, I use to crave Mexican food.  Seriously, I would become fixated on it and just had to have it.  And then once I was there, I would chomp through tortilla chips like a champion food eater.  When I started realizing how intense my cravings were becoming, this lead me to find out that I have a negative reaction to corn and products made with corn – such as tortilla chips.  Scan your journal for times when you marked you had food cravings and what type of reaction your body had up to three days following when you gave into that craving.

Negative reactions.

Migraines, runny nose, irritability…. whatever your symptom happens to be.  Look three days prior to the reaction all the way up to the moment the reaction occurred.  What did you eat in that three day period?  What did you drink?  What are the ingredients in the dishes you ate? Now look at the next time that symptom occurred and look back over the three days prior to the reaction.  What did you eat and drink?  Is there a common food item or ingredient you ate prior to that reaction?  Is there a common spice or sweetener in the foods you were consuming?  Look for common ingredients and something may surface.  Keep in mind, this could be an ADDITIVE to your food that you are reacting to and not the food itself.  For example, if you find you are reacting to sundried tomatoes and dried apricots you may tolerate tomatoes and apricots perfectly fine and it may be the sulfites or preservatives commonly used in these dried foods that your body doesn’t like.  That’s why it’s important to notice all the ingredients or you may miss something important.

Digestive Issues.

You can tell a lot about your health based on how long it takes your body to digest food and move it through your body.  And then what that waste looks and smells like once it’s been passed.  This isn’t the most pleasant of topics, I know, but it’s one of the best signals of digestive health.  Generally speaking, the goal is to push food through your system (from mouth to toilet) in about 24 hours. If you push food through too soon, you may not be absorbing the vitamins in the food you’re eating and it may be a sign that you’re consuming food your body sees as an allergen which it’s trying to get rid of as soon as possible.  If you’re holding onto food too long, you may be reabsorbing the toxins you should be eliminating.   Pay attention to how your digestive system behaved over the 30 days.  Which days were you constipated?  Which days were your stools loose or you had diarrhea?  Look up to three days prior to each type of reaction.  And note the days your waste smelled really pungent.  That’s a sign that there’s a problem.  It should have some smell, but if it’s really bad that’s a sign that there’s a negative food reaction occurring.

Burping, gassiness, bloating, and other negative digestive responses are also signs that your body is in distress.  Note what you consumed up to three days prior to these reactions.  Is there a pattern?

What To Do With the Info You Learn?

If you see patterns, the next best approach is to eliminate those food items from your diet for 30 days.  Keep up the food journal and see what symptoms disappear and which ones do not.  At the end of the 30 days, if you’re not convinced you discovered the culprit, then reintroduce one of the foods you eliminated and see if your symptoms return.

If you don’t find any conclusive results, bring your food journal to a allergist, specialist, or other expert in food challenges to see what patterns he or she finds.  I bet there are a few you missed!