When you’re suffering from digestive issues, keeping a track of symptoms can make all the difference… but it needs to be realistic. Dietitian, Dr Sarah Schenker, gives us her top tips for making a food and symptom diary work for you:
Keep it short: ‘If you try to keep an open-ended record it will become overwhelming. A week is often long enough to be able to identify patterns and triggers. Or, if your digestive symptoms are less frequent, consider a maximum of two to three weeks where necessary.
Chose the right time: ‘You ideally want to choose a week or two when you think you will have the time to keep a record but try not to choose a period when your diet might be unusual, such as when travelling.
Don’t change your diet: ‘It’s very tempting, as you begin recording your diet, to start eating differently. But try not to make any changes to your normal diet for the short period of tracking as it can distort the outcome.
Include the right details: ‘Make sure you capture enough detail to be able to quickly identify patterns and triggers – which should reduce the time you need to keep the diary for. Try to include the time of eating/drinking, a full breakdown of food and drink (reference the brands on any packaged items and how homemade food was cooked - including any cooking oils or dressings used), portion sizes (you may be able to tolerate a little of certain foods but not a lot), how much you actually ate and the time and severity of any symptoms.
Consider other factors: ‘It can be useful to keep a track of more than just food and symptoms. Try to also track mood (there may be a link with food choices or symptoms), sleep disruption, medication, exercise and hormonal changes (e.g for women: where you are on your monthly cycle).
Go online: ‘If you use an online symptom tracker or app you can quickly add the details in through your phone even when you’re out and about. The easier it is to complete, the more accurately you are likely to do it. It should also then be easy to download and print to show your GP or dietitian.’