Why & How to Keep an IBS Food Diary

Why & How to Keep an IBS Food Diary

If you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), you’ve likely been advised by your doctor, registered dietitian, and/or holistic nutritionist to start keeping track of your food intake and digestive patterns via an IBS food diary.

In this article you’ll learn what an IBS food diary is, why you might need one, and some insider tips on how you can get the most out of your food-symptom journaling practice.  

The information shared in this article is all stuff I wish I had learned earlier on in my own gut-healing journey. Hopefully it will help to pave the way for you!

Disclaimer: This article is meant to be educational and informative, but it is not medical or nutritional advice! Use the information below as a resource to complement and enhance the work you’re doing with your IBS treatment team which should include a doctor and a holistic / functional dietitian nutritionist who specializes in IBS.

Affiliate disclosure: This article contains affiliate links*. As an Amazon Associate, I will make a commission for qualifying purchases at no extra cost to you.

What is an IBS food diary?

An IBS food diary is a type of food-symptom journal and clinical tool you can use to log your daily food intake as well as your intake of fluids, medications, supplements, bowel movements, and IBS symptoms. 

Some IBS food diaries may also include space for you to keep track of your sleep, exercise, stress, energy, and mood patterns, since they’re all impacted by gut health (and vice versa).

Types

You can keep track of your food intake and digestive patterns using a phone app, a paperback IBS food diary, paper log templates, lined paper, or even a notepad on your phone or a Google Doc on your computer.  

Why do you need one?

If you’re in the trenches of navigating your way through IBS, you’re likely trying to figure out which foods work and don’t work for your body – and with the plethora of information on IBS diets right at our fingertips, this can quickly get confusing and overwhelming!

Nailing down your IBS food friends and foes is not always cookie-cutter, since there are three different types of adverse food reactions (some of which can be delayed and dose-dependent), and since no two people respond the same way to foods.  

All of that said, keeping a specific, consistent, detailed log of your food intake, bowel movements, and symptoms is not optional for IBS sufferers who want clarity and relief!

How can it help you on your journey?

I believe wholeheartedly that everything happens for a reason. If you’re having gut issues and adverse food reactions, you deserve to know what’s triggering all of it – and why – so you can then make informed choices on your own terms, from a place of knowledge, understanding, and empowerment.

You know your body better than anyone else. Leave no stone unturned until you feel realigned. --Jenna Volpe

When done properly, an IBS food diary will help you and your treatment team to:

  1. Pinpoint subtle patterns and blindspots
  2. Connect the dots 
  3. Identify any food allergies and/or intolerances
  4. Determine your tolerance thresholds
  5. Clarify the next steps you can take towards cracking your code (i.e. running certain clinical / functional nutrition testing)

5 Benefits of Keeping an IBS Food Diary

How to get the most out of your IBS food diary

  1. Bring it to your medical & nutritional consultations
  2. Get familiar with adverse food reactions
  3. Learn the Bristol Stool Chart
  4. Follow my 5 best-practice tips for food-symptom logging!

Keep your treatment team in the loop

Whether your IBS food-symptom logs are logged digitally or on paper, I encourage you to bring these to your medical appointments and nutrition consultations, so your treatment team can help you to review, identify and uncover any patterns or blindspots along the way.

Get familiar with adverse food reactions

Did you know there are three different types of adverse food reactions (food allergies, intolerances, and sensitivities) which have a LOT of overlap but which each have totally different mechanisms and protocols? 

Learn the Bristol Stool Chart

You may also want to get familiar with the Bristol Stool Chart, aka a clinical “poop chart” which helps you and your treatment to more accurately assess and track your digestive patterns and progress.  

The Bristol Stool Chart - by Jenna Volpe of Whole-istic Living

Follow these best-practice tips

  1.  Be Honest
  2.  Be Specific
  3.  Be Detailed 
  4.  Be Consistent
  5.  Be Compassionate

"IBS

Be honest

If you really want to get crystal-clear on what’s triggering your IBS symptoms, there’s no way around this: you need to write down ALL of the things you’re putting in your body!

Even those couple bites, sips, random snacks, the unplanned eating, and the spontaneous, “once-in-a-while” indulgences need to be written down.

While it may seem trivial, the reality is that stuff can and will STILL impact your health in big ways!

Bottom line: if you’re omitting certain things you don’t want to see on your food diary (consciously or subconsciously), you’re only doing yourself a disservice and delaying your healing – because it prevents you and your treatment team from seeing and assessing the complete, full picture of your day-to-day patterns.

Be specific

While it takes a little extra effort, it goes a long way to take note of not just the general category of food that you ate at a meal, but the BRAND – the TYPE – and also the AMOUNT. 

  • In some cases, you may be able to tolerate certain thresholds of a food, which is common in food sensitivities that are dose-dependent.

Be detailed

The more detailed you are, the more information you and your team have to work with. Going the extra mile here will really help your doctor and dietitian to better support you!

What I mean by getting detailed is I’d like for you to note the preparation method and any seasonings added to your food.

Noting all the details is what allows you to go back and audit an ingredient list as needed, since there could be a particular ingredient in a sauce/dressing that is triggering symptoms.

I also encourage you to keep track of the following non-food details, as all of it can provide important insights and information pertaining to your digestive patterns:

  • Medications
  • Supplements
  • Bowel movements (type & frequency)
  • Symptoms
  • Physical activity
  • Stress level
  • Sleep
  • Energy

Be consistent

The bottom line is that you get out of this practice what you put into it, so the more details you include in your food-symptom diary, AND the more consistent you are with logging, the easier it will be to crack your Gut Code.

At the end of the day, if you’re only doing this sporadically in your spare time, when it’s convenient, you’re going to struggle with lots of blindspots which will make it more difficult to pinpoint any reactions that are resulting from stuff you ate, drank, or took on days you didn’t log. 

While logging and tracking food, symptoms, and digestive patterns isn’t meant to be a forever practice, and it can often feel like “one more thing” stacked onto an already never-ending to- do list, it will be well worth the effort. 

Even staying consistent for just a few weeks at a time will go a long way!

Be compassionate with yourself

Remember – no one is judging you, and you shouldn’t be judging yourself for your food/drink choices, either. 

There’s no such thing as “perfect” eating and nobody expects you to eat “perfect” all the time, anyways! 😉

The more you can practice self compassion, by seeing your food logs as data through a neutral, non-judgmental, clinical lens, while giving yourself grace for being human, the easier it will be to keep going. 

(Imperfect action + honest effort = the two key things that will allow you to continue to move the needle forward on your gut- healing journey.)

Progress + Honest Effort + Imperfect Action - Not Perfection - are the Keys to Getting the Results You Want - Jenna Volpe RDN LD CLT - Whole-istic Living

Where can you get one?

As I mentioned earlier, there are a few different ways you can start using an IBS food diary!

Digital

Log your food and symptoms virtually via a phone app, such as one of the following:

Free PDF download

Feel free to download a sample template of my IBS food diary food-symptom log template here.

IBS Food Diary - Food-Symptom Log Template

The IBS Food Diary (paperback)

This self-published paperback IBS food diary* was inspired by and derived from one of the lessons contained within Module 1 of my online program, the Complete Gut Repair Roadmap – so more people can learn and implement this fundamental practice of keeping a food-symptom journal on their gut-healing journeys.

Infused with a combination of inspirational nuggets, clinical insights, and holistic viewpoints, my hope and intention is for the IBS Food Diary* to help you gain massive amounts of clarity (the first of 6 pillars of complete gut repair) as well as empowerment throughout your healing journey.

If you’d like to get full access to my insights and clinical tutorials (alongside 90 days of food-symptom & lifestyle logging templates and motivational quotes to keep you going), order your copy here*!

Additional resources

The world of IBS and gut health is complex and confusing, if you don’t know the ropes.  Get more informed by checking out the following IBS resources:

Conclusions

Tracking your food/fluid intake, meds, supplements, bowel movements, lifestyle metrics, and IBS symptoms (alongside working with a doctor and a type of functional dietitian / certified LEAP therapist / holistic nutritionist) is foundational as one of the first steps you can take towards decoding and deciphering what the heck your body is trying to tell you!

Getting as honest, detailed, specific, and consistent as possible while giving yourself grace and compassion, with help from an IBS Food Diary* is the “secret sauce” and the first step you should take towards cracking your Gut Code – aka figuring out which foods work best/worst for your body, and what you can do about it.

As always, make sure to get clinical supervision from your treatment team, listen to your body, and trust your gut (pun intended!).

XO – Jenna

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