Last year I discovered that I have a sensitivity to dairy, and I’m not sure that I would’ve truly realized it if I hadn’t started keeping track of all the things that I was putting into my body. I’d spent so many years being concerned about what I was putting onto my body, that I had to take a step back and reevaluate some of the things I was putting into it as well.
This began by keeping a food journal where I recorded in detail everything I drank or ate each day, along with notes regarding how I felt. Did I feel bloated or gassy? Was my eczema inflamed, red, or itchy? Was I breaking out into rashes or hives? Were by bowel movements normal? Did I get a headache, feel tired or irritable?
You’d be surprised how many things in our daily diets can cause these symptoms! We get so used to living with our discomforts sometimes that we forget to take a moment to be mindful of what triggers or aggravates them. But what if it didn’t have to be normal? What if it was possible to not suffer from migraines, itchy skin, and bloating often, or even ever?
Now I’m not saying that tracking your food and diet is the cure to everything. If only things were that black and white. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t provide valuable insight into how our bodies feel. After all, food is the fuel that we run on.
After a few weeks tracking everything I consumed, it didn’t take long for me to realize that the days I ate dairy were the same days I was having pressure headaches, increased gas or bloating, as well as inflamed eczema patches—wow, you think I would’ve realized sooner, but perhaps I didn’t really want to as I had a strong love affair with cheese! But the facts were staring me square in the face now, and I was finally in a place where I loved my body more than the tempting pleasure centers in my brain. And, after experiencing how great I felt after removing gluten from my diet (I discovered I had an allergy a year earlier), I was curious and excited to see just how good I could really feel.
Now, after being dairy free for 8 months, my eczema has healed, I surprisingly have no more complaints of bloating—I really was in denial about that cheese!—and, best of all, I haven’t had a pressure headache or migraine since. Yes, not a single one!!
For me personally, I felt so good that reintroducing different types of dairy wasn’t even tempting. But for anyone who prefers to try an elimination diet, with the hopes of bringing certain foods back in, I recommend eliminating the food in question for 3-4 weeks and keeping track of how you feel. Then slowly add one thing back into your diet and note how it affects you. Tip: if you’re trying to weed out a few different culprits (i.e., gluten, dairy, wine, nuts, etc.) start by removing only one of them and record symptoms (if any) before eliminating the next one. You don’t want to leave room for any confounding variables.
Most importantly, remember that we are each unique and so are our bodies, which can respond to the same things in different ways. Keeping a food diary allows us to understand what works or doesn’t work for our bodies individually, and just how much of certain foods we can have before experiencing symptoms of dis-ease.
How to Start a Food Journal
- Develop a routine. Pick a time of day to fill out your journal and stick with it. I recommend every night before bed or first thing in the morning while things are still fresh in your mind—believe me, it’s easy to miss key details even a day later. I had the benefit of starting my journal while I was on vacation, which made it easier for me to begin a new habit and maintain it after returning home.
- Be Detailed. If you had a salad for dinner, don’t forget to list everything on it (e.g., salad = kale salad with pecans, dates, apples, and, Italian dressing). If eating out, include where you ate (I surprisingly found not so great patterns with a few of my usual spots). If you think you’re going to forget, be proactive and take pictures of your meals/where you ate, and add them in when you get home.
- Be Mindful. Pay attention to how your body feels after each meal or snack. Do you notice any discomfort in your stomach? Heaviness or bloating? Do you feel tired or sleepy? If your symptoms are caused by what you ate, then you’ll begin to notice patterns within a few weeks. Just make sure to keep track of as many details as you can, even if you think they’re not related. You can always rule things out later, but you can’t complete the puzzle if you’re missing any of the pieces! A few things to keep in mind:
- What You Ate
- Portion Size
- Date + Time
- Symptoms: If you don’t experience any, be sure to note that as well.
- Bowel Movements: How were your bowel movements? Constipated? Loose? Normal? Your BM’s are one of the best indicators of your gut health so make sure to take a peek! 💩
- Hold Yourself Accountable. Build a support system or have someone who can help keep you on track. If your schedule makes it difficult to carry a journal around with you, use the notes section on your phone. I prefer a hard copy because it’s easier for me to go back and make correlations, highlights, notes, etc., but find the vehicle that works best for you and use it.
- Experiment with Quantities. I found that a little smear of butter on my bread or cooking with it in small amounts (1 tbsp) didn’t result in any side effects, but one too many gluten-free cookies made with butter and my eczema was flared up in no time!
- Eliminate Confounding Variables (i.e., other likely sources of your symptoms).
- Activity: Were you doing anything else while eating? Driving or talking on the phone? Lying down? All of these can also result in increased gas, bloating or indigestion.
- Health: How did you feel that day? Tired? Sick? Moody? Your overall health and wellbeing also play a role in digestion.
- Weather: Humidity, heat, dryness, etc. can affect our skin (especially those with eczema), and may also cause pressure headaches, so make note if you experience particular symptoms on days where the weather is a certain way.
While this may seem like a lot of information to keep track of, it will be much easier to notice any patterns once you have a few weeks of data to investigate. Be your own scientist and conduct your own experiments. Make the process fun!
Love + Light,