Food Journaling Challenge: The Things I’ve Learned

by Leanne Vogel (Healthful Pursuit) on December 3, 2011

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It’s been a little over two weeks since we started the food journaling challenge. How’s it going?

I just have to get it out there and say – I feel fantastic and couldn’t be happier with the changes I’ve seen.

Powerful Beginning

I began with guns a blazing on this one! I was tracking all of my foods, meals, drinks, and doing great with the challenge. I was beginning to see patterns in my eating, cravings, and symptoms (namely bloating and loss of energy after specific meals).

Struggles

I had every intention to track my meals while I was in London, but my days were packed with endless meetings which meant that I barely had time to eat, let alone track. I tried my best to track everything at the end of the day, which wasn’t ideal but I made it work.

At the end of the trip I was dealing with bloating, headaches, and sharp stomach pains. Had I been journaling and paying attention to what I was consuming, it would have been easy for me to figure out what the contributor was (although looking back now, it was totally stress related).

I felt completely disconnected from myself that week, which goes to show just how important food journaling can be!

Different Trackers

Before the challenge, I’d been tracking my meals using LiveStrong’s MyPlate (many of you also recommended DailyBurn). These tools are great if you want to track calories, fat, protein, and carbohydrate consumption, but if you have a history of disordered eating or a slightly unhealthy relationship with food, tracking to this extent could bring up a lot of negative energy around your diet, and we don’t want that!

The reason I like tracking on paper is that it allows me to connect with the food choices I’ve made; and how my body reacts to them, without having to be a slave to the numbers. There’s days that I eat more, days that I eat less. I’ve been learning to care less about how many calories I’ve consumed and more about whether or not I’ve figured out what the best combination of food is for my body.

Getting into the Groove

When we started the challenge, I’d recommended a couple of questions we could ask ourselves daily, or at the end of the week, to ensure we were translating our experiences and applying them to our future choices.

I found that once I really committed to the challenge, it became easier for me to pinpoint areas that I needed to focus on. These tweaks have helped me figure out what foods could be contributing to the symptoms, feelings, or changes in energy that I was experiencing.

Check out the attached pdf if you’re interested in checking out my last weeks’ worth of journal pages.

What I’ve Learned

Here are a bunch of things I’ve learned about myself since the challenge began. I’m hoping that this list will give you an idea of just how much you can learn about your body and give you the push you need to grab the template and start journaling with us!

  • My digestion is completely connected to the stress in my life.
  • My body does well with 10-13 portions of fats per day like coconut oil, olive oil, nuts and seeds (soaked only!).
  • Sugar including honey, maple syrup, and dried fruit affects my stomach and energy. Limit it to a couple of servings a week, if that.
  • Adding ground flax to my morning smoothie is a great way to increase my daily fiber intake.
  • Squash every second day is essential for my energy and digestion.
  • Green tea in the morning makes me feel fantastic.
  • Constant hunger pains were eliminated when I reduced fruit and increased fats.
  • Grains cause stomach pains, difficulty staying awake, digestive issues, and sluggishness.
  • 1 serving of fish per day makes me feel good.
  • When I eat too much in a day, I get intense deep pains in my lower abdomen. Eating every 4 hours seems to be better than having small snacks every 2-3 hours. Including fat in each of these meals helps, too.
  • Do not ever combine apples and red meat again. Ever.
  • Roasted vegetables are easy on my digestion and feel very nourishing when combined with a protein like turkey, bison, or chicken.
  • Probiotics are essential when traveling. Never leave the house without them!
  • I may have a possible sensitivity to garlic but haven’t quite figured it out yet.
  • The more coconut oil, the better I feel. 2-3 tablespoons seems to be the perfect amount.

Next weeks’ goal: increase my vegetable intake!

Have you been journaling? What have you found out about yourself?

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{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

Rebecca @ Naturally Healthy and Gorgeous

Food journaling is so hard, but so insightful! I am starting a weight loss class at our student run free clinic and that’s one of the approaches we use with the patients. You don’t really realize what you eat until you write every last bite down!

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Natalie @ Cinnamon Bums

This is super interesting to hear your reflections on food journaling – I think I could get a little too caught up/precise about it, and it would probably take more time than I’m willing to spend thinking about food, but it seems like you came away with a lot of great insights. I could see how it could be helpful, especially because I’m trying to figure out some food allergens/intolerances right now. It’s interesting that you mention garlic – because that’s actually been one of the WORST foods for me lately. If I eat too much of it at one meal, I’ll have stomach pains that last for up to 3-4 days. So in that sense, this food journaling could have reduced the many trials (and errors) I had to go through to figure that out.

Btw, just letting you know that the “grab the template” link isn’t working!

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Leanne (Healthful Pursuit)

Hey Natalie – the link is working now! Thanks for the heads up :) http://www.healthfulpursuit.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/food-journal_HP.pdf

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Miriam

I just started using your template two days ago. I tried to keep track of what I was eating in a note book a few years ago but got discouraged when I couldn’t figure out what was causing problems, probably because all I ended up with was a long list of food with a few things like “stomachache” written in between them. The format of your template is really helpful for summarizing what’s going on. I’ve already noticed two things I can work on to keep me feeling full for longer and avoid low blood sugar.

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Leanne (Healthful Pursuit)

That’s great to hear, Miriam! I’m so happy it’s helping :)

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Amanda Khan

the template link isn’t working!

i’m going to start this today! i’ve been experiencing bloating a lot lately and have somehow gained 3.5lbs without really trying. I’d like to adjust my behaviors to get back down to my feel good weight and digestion state!

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Juliette

I really like your food journal format! The template link isn’t working, is there another way I could get it?

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Leanne (Healthful Pursuit)

Hi Juliette – sorry about that, I’ve fixed the link! Here it is: http://www.healthfulpursuit.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/food-journal_HP.pdf

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Juliette

Thanks!

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Beatrice

Hey Leanne-
Have you heard about the low FODMAPs diet? I first heard about it from an article that appeared in the Wall St. Journal:
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204554204577023880581820726.html
Since then I’ve found so many great resources on this blog:
http://blog.katescarlata.com/fodmaps/
I have IBS and sticking to this diet has helped with stomach pains and digestion immensely. I’m really interested to hear your take on it! Thanks!

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Leanne (Healthful Pursuit)

Hi Beatrice – thanks for the link! I’ve used FODMAPs in my practice a couple of times with varying results. I know that when I follow the diet I feel great (namely when I don’t eat onions). I’d say if it’s working for you, keep up with the great work!

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Averie @ Love Veggies and Yoga

I dont food journal per se now but when i was going thru the worst of the worst with food allergy/intolerance detective work about 6 yrs ago or so, I did then and also ALWAYS pay attn now to anything new I eat. I am hyper aware b/c I have *such* a sensitive GI system that the tiniest thing can throw me for a loop so I always make mental notes.

Good for you for doing this and all you’ve learned!

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Cami @ FIT to FLOURISH

So interesting!! I have discovered very similar things. As I’ve added in more CrossFit, I’ve been very intrigued in the concepts behind the paleo diet because you here that a lot in the CF community along with the Zone diet. So basically… whole foods, lots of veggies and some fruit, nuts/seeds, quality meat, more meat/protein/fat in general, and avoiding grains/legumes. I was vegan for a year (not for me, blogged about it actually) and now I just focus on a well rounded plate of whole foods, but lately I’ve been leaning more paleo for the past month. Not strict though… gotta live life. So I’ve been having a good quality protein and cooked veggies with basically every meal along with more fats than I’m used to. I’ve limited grains and even avoided them for a week and noticed a huge difference in a positive way in my digestion, energy, and strength. I guess that’s one of the reasons why vegan was not for me because I ate a lot of grains/beans to round out the meals. Also, I noticed that my body isn’t a big fan of a lot of raw fruits and vegetables, but cooked is best. Sugar makes me feel like blah, but sadly that’s my weakness. And my body likes more fat, but can’t handle too much fat from nuts/seeds. It’s so great to start figuring these things out! Anyway, I noticed that I have experienced a lot of the same realizations with my diet, so wanted to share! Hope CrossFit is still going well for you!

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Leanne (Healthful Pursuit)

I’m happy to hear you say ‘gotta live life’ that’s SO true! My progression to paleo has been a slow one,and I like to think that it’s better to progress slowly and comfortably, especially when it comes to your diet. Sounds like our digestion/bodies are similar! I’ve found that over the last couple of weeks that I’ve been completely free of grains/legumes, I haven’t craved sugar/sweets AT ALL. I’m hoping you experience something similar! It’s actually odd walking past the bulk bins at the grocery store and not wanting a handful of jube jubes… Thanks for sharing all of your learnings, so interesting!

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Cami @ FIT to FLOURISH

Oh yes, I can really tell that when I’m good with the grains that I crave less sugar. But with the holiday season, it’s definitely not as easy to avoid the grains/sweets… especially when the Grandma is cooking for you during the holidays! Oh yes, I’m huge on living life. I love trying new foods so I try not to make my diet too limiting all the time so that I can occasionally enjoy grains without suffering later. I try to practice the 80/20 rule when it comes to paleo. I was starting to notice slower digestion and constant hunger there for a while, and I was told to eat more fat. Sounds like you have discovered something similar. What egg protein and glutamine do you use in our smoothie in the mornings? Do you notice that there is a certain time of the day that your body prefers to workout like early morning or late afternoon? I’m trying to figure that out right now.

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Leanne (Healthful Pursuit)

The 80/20 rule is fantastic, isn’t it? Definitely a great way to live a balanced life. The glutamine I used is fermented, and unflavored – http://www.nationalnutrition.ca/detail.aspx?ID=4243 and the protein powder is Jay Robb vanilla. SO good. I’m pretty sure my body responds best to workouts in the morning, but I do CrossFit Mon + Tues at night, so I make it work.

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Cami @ FIT to FLOURISH

I’ve been curious about the Jay Robb protein, so that’s good to know. Great glutamine supplement too. Thanks for sharing!

katie @KatieDid

Such insightful points, I really enjoyed reading this. I have a fairly good grasp on how food affects how I feel, I’m very tuned in. I must get to the bottom of some of my lingering symptoms though! P.S. I’d love to hear an update about crossfit, I’m thinking of giving it a try soon!

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Leanne (Healthful Pursuit)

Hey Katie – a quick update on CrossFit – I LOVE it! You should try it :) hehe

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Kristi Rimkus

I’m a Weight Watchers girl from way back, and while I don’t track points anymore, or calories, I do start journaling what foods and portions I’m eating when the pounds creep up until I get them off again. It I admit I’ve tried SparkPeople, and a few others on my iPhone in recent years and that approach seems to work for some people, but I find it takes too much time. I prefer the paper approach. However, for folks who are counting calories and don’t have a grip on portions and calories in foods, the electronic trackers have a number of nice features to get them started.

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Kasey @powercakes.blogspot.com

I food journal everyday! It’s a good thing that I did because my doctor was able to see what foods were hurting my stomach. After I got blood work done, we found out that I had allergic reactions to food that’s I was eating on a daily basis. Apparently I was eating too much of them and not rotating like I should. I now try to switch up my foods every other day. On about 3 months I can start introducing the foods back into my diet that once gave me problems! I plan on blogging about the experience!

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Leanne (Healthful Pursuit)

Thanks for sharing your experience, Kasey!

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Mel

Hello! Two questions!:) I see you drink a lot of Rooibos tea…any particular reason why?(I know with you there will be a good reason!:) Also is your usual 10 am snack a pancake with the coconut flour,oil, xylitol, etc…I am probably totally missing it…sorry I am tired tonight!ha! Thanks!

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Leanne (Healthful Pursuit)

Hi Mel :) I love drinking tea at the end of the day mainly to calm me down and prep my body for rest. The reason I choose rooibos (you’re right… there is always a reason with me!!) is because it’s supposed to be good for your digestive system, it has a high amount of antioxidants (good because I’m always stressed out) and doesn’t have caffeine! My 10 am snack is usually a coconut flour muffin + cinnamon. I don’t know if you could call it a muffin though, it’s kind of an oily blob that I cook in the oven for 20-25 minutes and drop a bunch of flax and more oil on. No apologies needed!

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Kelsey @ Snacking Squirrel

i have been told many times to food journal, especially to keep track of my moods/foods/reactions/etc.
i have tried to do this and manage a couple of days a week but i am just one of those stubborn people that whines at the thought of writing everything down- yet at the same time i get mad when i have a reaction to something and wish i had a journal to look back on to trace the source of my symptoms! but the more a practice the better at journaling i will get… i guess we now know what my new years resolution should be!! lol

xoxo <3

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Jenn @ Peas and Crayons

I do this every so often when i feel “different” and its a life saver! i notice so much! a lot of the same things you noticed! esp the digestive link!!!! What i ate wednesday acts as my mini check in once a week to see if i am eating too much of one thing and not enough of another and little triggers and such. and it helps keep me in the know =) love it!

hooray for upping our veggies! mwah!

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Kris | iheartwellness.com

Wow, what an interesting way to figure out your body!! I love this. My issue I know is too high grain and sugar…eeekk…lotsa dark chocolate over here and sugar in my effin coconut yogurt!!! I should cut it back, huh?

LOL

xxoo

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Andrea

I love that you found such specific things that affect you, I wish I could pinpoint more specific things, but I’m slowly getting there! Ever since *we* started this food journaling challenge, I’ve been journaling every day (give or take a few days) and am starting to see lots of things that I would have never realized when I had not been journaling. A few things that I’ve found so far are that 1- my body really likes eggs. I find this kinda weird because I have never craved eggs before, but I’ve found that I really feel good after eating them as a part of my meal! 2- LOVE squash smoothies. I could have a squash smoothie every day for the rest of my life and be a happy girl! They leave me feeling very alert and with a good amount of energy and help keep the hunger pains away. 3- brown rice possibly irritates my tummy. The last couple of times I’ve eaten it I have gotten pretty bloated that lasts for a couple of hours. I want to test this one or two more times just to be sure though. Some other things are pretty basic lessons that have been reassured like eat slowly, try to snack lightly at night-time (which I need to work on!), chia in the morning = good, and add more veggies as much as possible into my days! Thanks for keeping us updated with your progress because it inspires me to keep up with mine as well! :) Have a great night Leanne!

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Sarah

Hey this post is great really makes me want to try food tracking again. Have you read natalia rose’s book, detox for women? Not only is it a great book:) But a lot of the things you learned about yourself fit into her eating plan, like the squash helping with digestion and grains hurting with digestion. limiting fruit In take. Its good reading!

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Leanne (Healthful Pursuit)

Oh interesting! I’ll have to check out that book! Thanks a bunch, Sarah :)

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Charlotte

I should really do this as well. This is something I’ve noticed that is especially true in my case as well. “My digestion is completely connected to the stress in my life.” Now, how do I calm down the nerves, is the real question?

I think I’m going to try a food journal. Seems like it woudl be very beneficial.

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Elizabeth Liu

Hi, how do I know how much of a food makes up one serving?

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Leanne (Healthful Pursuit)

I quick rule is 1/2 cup = 1 serving for all things but fat which is about 1-2 tbsp. As long as you stay consistent with your own serving sizes, you’ll be successful in determining which macronutrient you’re favoring or what works better for you.

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Elizabeth Liu

Thanks so much for the quick feedback. I just had my 2nd son 3 weeks ago and I’m using your template to help determine what food I eat affects my son through breastfeeding- as well as how it affects me- since my 1st son had so many skin problems because I didn’t realize he was allergic to milk (not just lactose but milk. He breaks out into a rash if it even touches his skin) and egg whites.
Already I’ve determined that my 2nd boy doesn’t sleep well and lets out cries of pain with more gas if I eat gluten, peanuts or dairy (although I am fine eating all these. I myself, am only a bit lethargic when I eat gluten). It baffles me that he would have a problem with these items through my breastmilk- especially gluten- since I know the milk protiens travel easily to the milk. Ah well, whatever will help him sleep better at night.
I do have a question about your cute and helpful food journaling sheet. It says I should drink eight 500ml (16 oz) of water a day but this is 2x more than I’ve always heard. Is there a reason for this?
Thanks so much!
ELizabeth Liu
P.S. just to let you know I am writing from Shanghai, China (American living abroad) so your blog is becoming world-wide

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Leanne (Healthful Pursuit)

Hi Elizabeth – I too am always amazed to learn just how sensitive babies are to the foods their mothers eat while breast feeding. Good for you for going the extra step to figure out what will work best for your son! Their little digestive systems are like cheesecloth. Anything you do will improve their health SO much when they get to be older as well! In regards to the water – you can count the cups as 250mL if you’d like. I put it as 500mL so I could capture all of my fluids – tea, juice, water, everything. There were some days that I was actually having that much (although rare).

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