The Pros and Cons of Using a Food and Symptom Journal
Last updated: June 2018
People with IBS are often advised to track their symptoms and food intake so that they can work out what’s triggering their symptoms. But one of the things that’s rarely mentioned is that this isn’t always the best strategy for everyone. So in this article, I’m going to discuss the pros and cons of using a food and symptom journal so that you can work out whether you should be using one.
The pros of tracking:
It helps you to understand how your symptoms change from day to day
One of the best reasons to track symptoms is that it helps you to fully understand the severity of your IBS and to see if any patterns occur. For instance:
- What types of symptoms do you get?
- Do you get symptoms every day or only some days?
- Is your IBS worse in the morning, afternoon, evening or while you’re meant to be sleeping?
It helps you to make sure you’re not eating the wrong foods
One of the best reason to track food intake is that it helps you to ensure that you’re sticking with your IBS diet, regardless of whether you’re restricting FODMAPs or other foods that you’re sensitive to. For instance:
- Are all of the meals, snacks and drinks that you choose suitable for your needs?
- Are there times when you choose unsuitable foods because you haven’t planned your meals or were too rushed to prepare them?
It helps to see if there’s a pattern to your symptoms
If you track both your symptoms and your food intake at the same time, it can potentially help you to detect patterns to see what’s triggering your IBS symptoms. This however is often easier said than done and it can take a practiced eye to make the right connections. That’s because many food reactions don’t happen immediately but can take up to 72 hours to set in. So you may need professional assistance for this part of the process.
The cons of tracking:
It can be hard to remember to do
The problem here is that if you don’t remember to track things as they happen, when you do stop to write them down, you often forget the fine details. This of course means that your tracking isn’t accurate and so not as valuable as it should be.
It can become very annoying to do
Anyone who’s tracked symptoms and/or food intake for a prolonged time knows this to be true. Having to stop and write everything down as it happens slowly takes the fun out of life. It’s fun recording the highlights of your life, but not so fun recording bowel movements, ache and pains, and every food that you eat.
It can make you anxious about your IBS
For some people this is the biggest problem of all because having your IBS front and center all the time means that you never forget about your condition. You’re always worried about when your next symptom will be and whether what you’re going to be eating next will cause an issue.
So should you use a food and symptom journal?
Clearly there are good reasons to use a food and symptom journal since it can help you to learn about your IBS and make sure that you’re sticking with your IBS diet so that you can get the best results. But as soon as tracking becomes seriously irritating, stops being accurate, or causes you to become anxious about your IBS, then it’s time to stop. Essentially, you should only track food intake and/or symptoms if it helps you with your IBS. When it stops helping or starts making things worse, then it’s time to stop the tracking.
Which of the following symptoms of IBS do you experience most frequently?