Are you thinking about the FODMAP diet, but don’t know where to start?
Keeping a food journal of everything you eat can help you identify connections between what you eat and your symptoms. Whether you’re just starting out or have already begun the FODMAPs method, it’s never too late to start logging what you eat each day.
Why do it?
- It is not easy to identify the foods responsible for our illness. Digestive problems can appear 24 or 48 hours after you eat: by then, you’ll have had several other meals that will cover the tracks and make it difficult to single out your problem foods.
- Only by keeping a regular diary will you be able to highlight and identify suspects or families of suspects. Say, for example, that you’re in step 1 (elimination) and you go out to a restaurant and eat an avocado toast, and later to a friend’s house and have too much coleslaw. If these foods later cause you trouble, it’s probably linked to their sorbitol content. By keeping a diary, you can pay attention to this particular suspect, and later target it in your reintroduction tests.
- You can also show your diary to a dietician. A health professional or someone with expertise in FODMAPs can help you identify foods high in FODMAPs that you might not have known about, explaining the persistent symptoms that bother you.
In any case, the more “history” you have, the better the analysis and conclusions that can be drawn from it.
What to write down in your food journal
At a minimum, you should record the date, what you ate and what symptoms appeared (constipation, diarrhea, gas, bloating, pain). You can also use the Bristol stool scale to help you keep track of your bowel movements.
Don’t forget to note chewing gum (beware of sorbitol!), office treats, late-night snacks, sauces, seasonings, bread, coffee creamers or sweeteners, or the type of sugar you put on your strawberries, etc.
There is no need to record your consumption of still/tap water — however, you should note any consumption of alcohol (including wine and beer), teas, coffees, sodas, syrups, carbonated water, fruit or vegetable juices.
Which format, digital or paper?
When it comes to starting your food diary, there are several formats:
- On paper: In a simple notebook or binder.
- There are many applications dedicated to FODMAPs and digestive problems, and many include features that help you record what you eat and your symptoms. I’m not a fan of these apps for two reasons: the interface is often a bit constraining, forcing you to fill in fields that are not necessarily relevant, but also because the information is not easily exportable or searchable as a whole. But some people will find it useful, and statistics functionalities within the app can help.
- My personal preference: keeping your own notebook in a spreadsheet format, whether it’s Excel, Numbers if you’re on Mac/iPhone, or a Google Spreadsheet. Ideally, you should keep your spreadsheet online, so you can add to it even if you are eating out.
In the end, it’s a question of personal preference — some will be more comfortable on paper, others with an application, and others with a spreadsheet.
However, I encourage you to go digital:
- Over time, there may be adding lots of information to this document. You can’t as easily analyze handwritten notes as you search to draw conclusions.
- A digital version is more easily shared with third parties. If you choose an application, see if you can export data and show it to a dietician during a remote consultation, for example.
My FODMAP diary template
Need a template? You can get mine here:
You’ll get two templates that you can print or use as a spreadsheet: a standard and a simplified version. The first one details the symptoms, their intensity, the stress level, etc, whereas the second template is a little less restrictive.
While providing more information is always better, filling out something — even if briefly — is better than not filling out anything at all.
“Ketchup”, “stock”, “dressing” or “bread” are not enough, specify the nature, the composition, the brand.
Is the broth homemade or industrial? With which ingredients? The flour used for the bread is essential. It’s important to know whether bread is leavened with sourdough or baker’s yeast, as the two can have different impacts on your symptoms. As for ketchup, specify: was it Heinz or a McDonalds-brand ketchup?
If a certain meal has caused you trouble but you don’t know all the ingredients that went into it, don’t hesitate to ask the cook or the store, either at the time or afterwards by email or on their Facebook page. Professionals take these requests seriously and usually come back to you with precise information.
This seems like a lot of work
You’re right, it is. But at the end of the day, a food diary can help you to draw valuable conclusions about what’s causing your IBS. The more you record, the more you will learn.
If you can’t write it all down, at least keep track of when you’re having digestive problems — write down the food you’ve eaten in your last two or three meals.
That alone can help — but try to fill out the food diary as much as you can, depending on your motivation and your symptoms. Be especially mindful during the elimination phase. It only lasts three to six weeks. You can do it!
After a while
Once the reintroduction phase is over, you can stop noting everything you eat and your symptoms. It’s important to wind down your use of the food diary after a while, not only because it can lead to eating disorders (like orthorexia, the fear of having to “eat well” all the time), but also because it is restrictive. Still, I do continue to note any symptoms that seem to pop up inexplicably.
Later, this can help you identify foods high in FODMAPs that may have slipped past you before. That might be because they are much less common or because the food isn’t necessarily high in FODMAPs — you just might not tolerate it. That’s common with processed products, such as beer, sauce, etc. Not everything can be explained by FODMAPs for everyone.