In my view, the single most important tool in your personal health toolbox is your food and mood journal.
“The best time to begin keeping a journal is whenever you decide to.”
― Hannah Hinchman
If you haven’t yet started tracking your diet and lifestyle habits, I encourage you to make it a priority.
Want to know why I started keeping a food and mood journal?
Back in 2014, I took part in an online course through the University of Colorado – Gut Check: Exploring Your Microbiome. It was a fascinating program (highly recommended!)
At the time, I had recently completed the 9-month elimination phase of my personal Autoimmune Protocol. As a result of receiving some really poor health test results, I wrote a companion article about all disease beginning in the gut, too.
Why should we care so much about our microbiome?
Our microbes train our immune system. They directly affect our health and it is very likely they influence our behaviour, too.
As a human being, you have around 10 trillion human cells. Pretty amazing.
Even more amazing is that you have around 100 trillion microbial cells.
And, what’s even more amazing is that the differences in the human genome (the genes that make us human) between any two human beings are microscopic in comparison to the differences the microbiota of the same two human beings. How different? We share 99.99% of our human genome and only 10% of our microbiota. WOW.
THAT’S why we should care so much about our microbiome!
As part of the University of Colorado course, I tracked my average daily intake of foods for 10 days on their online tracker. This is what my total food intake looked like:
Scientists are learning that our diet and lifestyle choices are FAR more important than we realise.
But what can a lay person do to improve gut health?
Well, there are several factors which influence the make-up of your gut microbiota:-
- antibiotic usage
There’s not much any of us can do about age. And, the same is true of our genetics and any previous antibiotic usage.
What we can control is what we eat and how we choose to live moving forward – which affects our physiology, too. Enter the food and mood journal!
We all know the basics but, needless to say – increasing your fresh vegetable intake, choosing pasture-raised animal protein, reducing processed food and sugar, swapping out soda for water, moving and getting some sun daily, and ensuring you’re getting quality sleep and minimising stress are all key.
“All these bacteria that coat our skin and live in our intestines, they fend off bad bacteria. They protect us. And you can’t even digest your food without the bacteria that are in your gut. They have enzymes and proteins that allow you to metabolize foods you eat.” – Bonnie Bassler
And, conveniently, that brings me back in a lovely circle to why I’m such a keen advocate for the tenets of the autoimmune protocol (AIP). You already know that the foundation of the protocol is a nutrient-rich elimination diet that removes foods that irritate the gut, cause gut imbalance and activate the immune system.
But, it’s more than that.
The AIP template helps break down other areas of your life into manageable chunks so that you can effect change that improves your health. And this includes gut health. Things like maximising sleep effectiveness, managing stress, moving, improving your mood, and more…
My food and mood journal has been pivotal in understanding what is going on with my health.
In addition to tracking what I eat, I also record:-
- my symptoms
- sleep (quality and quantity)
- movement and exercise
- mood and stress levels
- at the risk of over-sharing, I track my bathroom habits, too.
Sure. In the beginning, like many new things, it was a drag. But now it has become almost second nature.
And, it is surprisingly helpful.
My food and mood journal was the catalyst for establishing my morning ritual– now my favourite part of the day.
Want even more reasons why you should keep a food and mood journal?
Keeping a journal will show you exactly what goes into your mouth each day. You might think that you know exactly what you eat every day. If so, I’m pretty confident you don’t. I can tell you that writing down what you eat guarantees you know exactly what you’re eating. Every little bit.
Your journal can show you what you need to eat. Even if you think you’re getting enough vegetables, you may find you’re not. Conversely, you may find you’re really eating far more sugar or processed foods than you thought – and, now you need to cut back.
It can help you to plan your meals, too. We all know we should be eating a variety of foods. Particularly vegetables. And, most of us are guilty of sticking to the tried and true. Keeping a journal allows you to see just how ‘stuck in a rut you might be’. At first, you will use your journal to keep track of the meals that you eat. But over time, I find I use my journal to plan out meals in order to create a more balanced diet. A good example of how this works is my effort to eat liver once a week. I can quickly tell how on target I am with that goal.
Your journal will keep you honest. Strange but true. And, even better, over time, your journal will actually make you want to make healthier choices. Every time you record a diet or lifestyle choice that doesn’t serve you, you’ll want to avoid doing it in the future. It is a strangely simple and effective tool for motivating you to make the right choices.
Tracking allows you to monitor what’s working and what’s not. Over time, if you have a reaction to something, it is much easier to pin it down to the source when you can see what you have eaten on any given day. And, then you can effect change to prevent it happening again. This is especially true when it comes time to reintroduce foods on the autoimmune protocol. It’s also how I worked out – very quickly that carob is not my friend.
What do you think about keeping a food and mood journal?
Is it something you would consider?
I love your pie chart! Your pie chart makes me want to keep a food journal, too!
The pie chart was part of my Gut Biome homework. My Dad was also impressed!
I like the accountability and reference a food journal would provide! I wonder what my pie chart would look like… O.o
Dare you to do a pie chart, Erin… We can compare notes!
Also a big fan of the pie chart- I dread to think about the size of my choc one
It’s official – chocolate (well, dark chocolate!) is a health food!
How was your journal structured? I have been doing this off and on but just writing this down doesn’t allow me to easily go back and see patterns, etc. Did you use charts or tables?
Sandy – it can be a bit tricky at first, navigating to a system that works for you and meets your needs. I have a daily tracking system and when I am ‘in’ my AIP mode (AIP Reset or similar), I have a weekly and monthly review where analyse patterns and trends, set goals and identify what’s working, what’s not working, and what’s tricky.
thanks for these well-articulated thoughts on keeping a journal. I started AIP 7 months ago (still not reintroducing much but it’s been a huge improvement to my quality of life!). Since I couldn’t find an app on my phone to help me tracking my food, sleep etc, we are now in the process to create an app dedicated to AIP for this. Would love to share some thoughts with you on this
Hi Charlotte – thanks for your message. Please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can arrange a cunning plan to connect!
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