Tips for Using Data from Your Food Diary
Why is this Important?
In my last hub about starting a food diary, I wrote about how you can start a food diary to keep track of what might be triggering allergies or food sensitivities. For people looking to lose weight (or generally eating healthier), you might be lucky enough to have your online food diary keep track of your calories and nutrition data. If you used a printable food diary template or made your own, here are some guidelines and suggestions on how you use what you wrote down.
Have Enough Honest Information Written Down!
Don't just fill out your food diary for a week and decide to look at the data. To really see your eating habits, give yourself at least a few weeks. That way, you have as much information as possible to look at and see patterns in your eating, such as which foods you eat a lot of (which could indicate that is what you're allergic to), the mood you are in when you eat certain foods, or seeing how much water you drank.
Most important of all, be honest when recording your food down. If you lie in your food diary, it's the same as lying to yourself. The whole goal of this is to improve your health right? Being dishonest or lazy with your food diary is really respecting that fact, and it indirectly indicates that you don't respect yourself enough to make an honest effort.
Make a Tally Chart
After about a month or so (don't make it longer than 6 weeks! You want to start changes as soon as you can right?), open up your food diary. Make a tally chart on a piece of paper or on your computer, whichever you feel comfortable with. Read through your diary first to see what types of ingredients or emotions pop up often, but don't write anything down just yet. Read through a few times if you wish, it's ok to have bad short term memory! After you note what keeps cropping up, write those down in your tally chart. Go back again through your diary and tally each time an ingredient or emotion pops up. Yes, sounds tedious, but there is a point to this! The purpose to this is to see any commonalities that may trigger your food sensitivity/allergy or weight gain (or lack of weight loss). Don't forget to date the tally chart. If you create more in the future you want to know which is which.
What if I don't Notice Any Commonalities?
Either you have nothing wrong with you or you weren't honest in your food diary. Go back and try again! Sometimes you don't have to have a lot ticked on your tally chart for it to be a commonality. In this case, it might be useful to record more data for a few more weeks before starting the above exercise again.
If Using a Food Diary to Lose Weight, Record That Down
It might suck, but recording your weight is useful to see if what you are eating is actually helping you lose weight! It might also be useful to record down portion sizes too, in case you can't 'give up' a certain food but are striving to eat less. You can also note portion sizes in your tally chart too, to see if how much you eat, not just want you eat, helps with weight loss or not.
Another reason to record your weight is to see what is working and what is not. If you are losing weight, celebrate your success! You are doing something right! If you're maintaining you weight, it can be helpful to see what other 'offending' foods you can eat less of or eliminate altogether.
If Using Food Diary For Allergies, Find Frequently Eaten Foods
Look at your tally chart after you are finished. Are there ingredients that appear often? Note those down. Of course the exception is water, but everything else, including drinks, take note! Next, go back through the diary and see how you felt after those meals. See any consistencies or patterns? Note them down. If you notice discrepancies such as feeling tired or irritable after eating certain foods, it could be a sign of a food sensitivity or allergy. I remember feeling really tired after having bread, and I got tested months later and discovered I was allergic to baker's yeast. Listen to your body and what it is trying to tell you, don't fight against it.
Eliminate One Ingredient at a Time
This is important! Treat this as a science experiment, where you change one variable at a time. If you do too much at once, you won't know the exact food that is causing your allergies. Foods you think you might be allergic to (because you eat a lot of it) might be it at all. It might seem a bit of a hassle, but it all goes back to respecting yourself and your health. Take it one step at at time. Better to do something right the first time than having to redo it a few times right?
If Unsure About Food Sensitivity, Reintroduce Ingredient and Note Changes
Make sure you've eliminated the food for at least a few weeks, since it takes at least 2 weeks for you to feel any difference. Don't forget to keep up with your food diary! You will still need to keep track of how you feel. If after doing this for a few weeks, you don't notice any changes, then eliminate another ingredient and reintroduce the one you eliminated previously back. If you notice changes, continue to eliminate that food and continue to eliminate another ingredient. Continue this process until all foods you had on your tally list is done. By now you should have a fairly clear picture of what foods you can eat and what you need to avoid.
It is up to you how you want to use what you wrote in your food diary to improve your health. Use your intuition to look at the foods you eat, modify your diet or eliminate ingredients altogether. If you have any other suggestions on how to use a food diary effectively please let me know in the comments below!