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How To Keep a Food Diary


Updated January 04, 2014

How To Keep a Food Diary
Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Keeping a food diary can be extremely helpful when a person is experiencing disruptive digestive symptoms, as is the case with IBS. Although true food allergies are relatively rare, it is possible that specific ”trigger foods” are irritating to your system. Since a variety of different factors appear to contribute to IBS symptoms, it is important to be scientific in your attempts to identify trigger foods, to reduce the risk of unnecessarily putting yourself on a restricted diet. A simple way to identify the foods that may be problematic for you is through the use of a food diary.

Difficulty: Easy

Time Required: Minutes per day.

Here's How:

  1. Keep a small notebook with you at all times.
  2. On the top of each page, write the following headings:
    • Time
    • Food Eaten
    • Other Factors (such as stress or emotional upset)
    • Symptoms
  3. After each meal, fill it the relevant columns. As you list your symptoms, rate their severity on a scale of 1 to 10.
  4. At the end of each week, look for any possible patterns or potential food triggers. A review article in The Journal of the American Dietetic Association labels a problematic food as one that appears to cause symptoms within three days on at least three separate occasions.
  5. Once you have identified a possible problematic food, follow an elimination diet for a period of two weeks. During this test period, assess whether the elimination is having a helpful effect on your symptoms. If not, slowly re-introduce the food and again assess the effect on your digestive system. This process may seem like it takes a long time, but most likely you have been dealing with your IBS for a long time!



  1. Aim to eat smaller, more frequent meals, so that you reduce the effects of your body’s gastrocolic reflex on your digestive system. This reflex stimulates colon contractions. When we eat large or fatty meals, the effects of this reflex are heightened, and thus could contribute to digestive upset regardless of what specific foods were eaten.
  2. Look for patterns in terms of your stress level and your symptoms. If you see a relationship, teach yourself some relaxation skills to help quiet your system.
  3. Remember that it might just be one ingredient in a particular food that does not agree with you. In other words, it may not be pasta that is giving you trouble, but the tomatoes in the sauce.


Heizer, W., Southern, S. & McGovern, S. "The Role of Diet in Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome in Adults: A Narrative Review" The Journal of the American Dietetic Association 2009 109:1204-1214.

Simren, M., Abrahamsson, H. & Bjornsson, E. "An exaggerated sensory component of the gastrocolonic response in patients with irritable bowel syndrome." Gut 2001 48:20-27.

Sjolund, K., Ekman, R., Lindgren, S. & Rehfeld, J. "Disturbed motilin and cholecystokinin release in the irritable bowel syndrome." Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology 1996 31:1110-1114.

Whorwell, P. " Dietary Aspects of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)" Digestive Health Matters 2007 16:6-7.

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