Saturday, 21 April 2012

The F word – Part Deux: Dear Diary…

In my last post I began my introduction to the world of fibre and how I came to discover my optimal intake-level of the f word.  Knowing your numbers is great in theory, but if you do not know how to track your fibre then you will have no idea how you are doing.  Sure, your symptoms may indicate that things are not going well, but you will not know how the fibre or the food is affecting you.  The solution is … food journaling! 

For those of you who have been diagnosed for awhile, you have probably received this recommendation many times before.  If you are anything like me, I blissfully ignored it.  I became so aggravated any time someone suggested that I track my food, and even worse my symptoms, and my feelings.  And then I had one too many “episodes” and could no longer ignore the repeated recommendations of my dietitian to begin tracking.  So, pen and notebook in hand, I began the tiresome task of writing everything down.  When I say everything, I mean absolutely everything. 

What to track?

  • Track how much (ex. 1 slice of whole wheat bread, ½ cup of unsweetened applesauce etc.) and how it was prepared (ex. peeled, cooked, grilled, poached, raw etc.)
  • DO NOT forget to track your liquids, especially water
  • Track when you ate it
  • Track how you physically felt throughout the day (ex. felt bloated after lunch, solid BM after breakfast, cramps after dinner etc.)
  • Make note of details relating to your BM (bowel movement), this would include color, consistency, smell, easy or difficult to pass
  • Track how you felt emotionally (ex. felt stressed all day, very positive day etc.)
  • Write down any event you may feel was significant
  • Make note of any physical activity you did that day and for how long – in addition, if your IBS felt better or worse as a result
  • For women, if you are on your period, be sure to note this as it can drastically change your symptoms

 Now that you know what to track, how should you track?  There are so many options that you can use, I have tried both the manual options and a few of the online options.  Here is a sampling of what you can use:

  • Notebook – just like a diary, you can just make a new entry each day and jot down all of the details as listed above.
  • Spreadsheet – I am a girl who loves her spreadsheets.  I love to create an Excel file for pretty much everything, so journaling was no different.  My philosophy is, if you can make it visually appealing and thoughtfully organized, you will be more likely to use it.
  • Worksheets – Some dietitians will give you a worksheet that you can use to track your food, and if not, make your own, maybe using a spreadsheet!
  • Online – There are unlimited online choices.  In the past, I have used Fitday (the free version) and I currently use Livestrong (paid version, but will likely switch back to the free version next year).  These providers have all of the information available online, so you do not have to wonder how much fibre is in the food you are eating, or what the nutritional break down is of a Tim Hortons blueberry bran muffin.  These are useful tools because they can show you whether or not you are reaching your RDI for various nutrients, it has a “journal” option that allows you to track your symptoms, as well as your fitness and other activities.  My husband is a valiant Fitday supporter, but, Livestrong is prettier and has lots of articles relating to fitness and food.  A friend of mine uses a similar paid tool on the Women’s Health website and I also know that many runners use SparkPeople.  However, it does not matter which option you choose, it just has to work for you.  
  • Mobile –  most, if not all of the websites listed above also have apps that you can download to your iPhone or iPod so you can track on the go.  They also sync up to the online versions.   

When keeping a food journal, ensure that you track for a minimum of two weeks, but preferably a month.  This will allow you to track a wide variety of foods and it will give you a clear idea of your eating habits and how your symptoms relate to what you eat.  

Once you have tracked for the allotted time, you should analyze the results and make adjustments accordingly.  For example, if you notice that every time you eat turnip your guts are a-rumble, maybe you should stop eating this gas-inducing food.  If you notice that when you eat food high in refined sugars that you have the runs, maybe it is time to re-think your sugar intake.  If you notice that no matter what you eat for breakfast, you are having problems, maybe change the time you eat breakfast.  Perhaps you discover that an after-dinner walk makes you feel much better, you should ensure that you do this every night because it gives you relief.  What happens if you have strong symptoms and cannot figure out the trigger?  Check your food intake on the previous day.  Often times, it is the food that you ate yesterday that creates the symptoms you feel today.  If that does not work, did something happen in your life that could have triggered the symptoms? 

Below are some screen shots from both Fitday and Livestrong to give you an idea of what their interfaces look like.  Check back for Part 3 in my f word series.  

Screenshot of Livestrong's MyPlate 
Screenshot of Fitday's interface

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