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  • Writer's pictureDr. Brian Lum

How To (Correctly) Keep A Food Journal

Updated: Feb 2, 2022

There is an increasing awareness of food sensitivities and the range of symptoms they can cause.

Despite this knowledge, the path from suspecting a food sensitivity to identifying the food that is causing symptoms is not a straightforward one.

People have been debilitated for years with severe migraines, neuropathy, pain, panic attacks, joint pain, back problems and more - primarily due to what they were eating.

If you have symptoms, even those that are associated with a known condition - it is worth exploring the idea that some foods may make your symptoms worse.

Keep in mind that worsening symptoms can also be due to inflammation, toxin exposure, additional conditions, a hidden virus, a bacterial infection or a wide range of other factors.

Cooking ingredients with a notebook.  text overlay How To (Correctly) Keep A Food Journal Functional Healthcare Institute

Food Sensitivities Can Be Serious

There will be many people telling you that if you don’t have a food allergy, you don’t have a problem. The absence of an antibody prevents the classification of an allergy - but without that classification, food sensitivities are still a cause for concern.

Food sensitivities can cause severe symptoms that can be life-altering. Much like a bacterial infection or an environmental toxin, if something is causing you significant symptoms, it is worth finding and eliminating.

Conventional Testing

The food allergy test most often employed by allergists is the skin prick test in order to evaluate a histamine response (a positive test would manifest in raised skin after the allergen is applied). This skin reaction is one type of allergy response, but it does not rule out severe sensitivities and some types of allergies.

The goal is to get you healthy, symptom-free, and to be able to use your food as efficient fuel for your body. Your best tool to identify a food sensitivity will be a specific kind of food journal.

Remember that a food journal should only be used if your symptoms have been checked out by a doctor to rule out any serious conditions.

If you have trouble breathing or have an anaphylactic reaction of any kind, then immediate medical attention is needed, and you should go to your ER or doctor right away.

Only after life-threatening symptoms and other conditions have been appropriately evaluated, can other possible causes be explored.

The Benefits of Using a Food Journal

When asking a patient if their symptoms fluctuate over time, many have the initial response of 'no.'

When pressed further, it comes to light that things like a lack of sleep, eating too much sugar, or stress can make their symptoms significantly worse.

a plate of superfoods

When a person has pain or discomfort for a long time, they do not pay attention to the subtle ebbs and flows as a person would when the pain or discomfort is new.

A food journal is a useful tool if your symptoms are mild (not life-threatening) and you suspect one or more sensitivities.

Rather than using a calendar, a lined notebook is better since it gives you more space to write all the notes you like.

Some people then transfer certain information to a calendar, like a red 'x' for days with many symptoms or a smiley face for days where you feel great.

Here are the things to include in your food journal. You can always add more information, but this will be very helpful to you.

This journal can also be shown to a doctor if you wish to have a professional opinion as to the cause of your symptoms. I often use journals as resources when patients have recorded their complex symptoms.

What To Put In Your Food Journal

1. Foods

Write down the foods you are eating (everything, including condiments and spices). Include the rough quantity of foods eaten. Measurements like 'about one cup' are fine.

2. Time

Time of day the foods are eaten.

3. Sleep

Quality and quantity of sleep (a 1-10 rating every night is helpful) mention if you are waking up in the middle of the night. Record if you have feelings of anxiety when you wake up.

4. How You Feel

Emotionally, physically, energy level, pain level, any new symptoms and if any heath condition changes. A rapid heart rate or the sudden onset of sinus congestion or anxiety are of particular importance.

Remember that unlike a classic food allergy, a food sensitivity can cause a reaction the second you put the food in your mouth or hours or even days later - this is why keeping a journal is so valuable in finding your triggers.

After a week or two, you may find out that you get headaches about 6 hours after you have eaten eggs and they last for about a day. Or, you may have feelings of panic and nervousness that start about 12 hours after consuming gluten, gradually getting less severe over the course of a few days.

The Cause of your Food Sensitivity

It may also happen that you still cannot make sense of your fluctuating symptoms. You may want to seek out the help of a functional medicine doctor who has experience in addressing food sensitivities.

Many times, identifying and removing your food sensitivities is only the first step. Gut health, toxin burden and other variables must be evaluated for long-term relief. I frequently use advanced testing, allergy testing (using a blood test), toxin assessment, and genetics to isolate causes.

Eliminating a food sensitivity can initially provide symptom relief - but there is a reason you developed a sensitivity in the first place, and finding that reason can not only remove the sensitivity but also restore you to superior health.

Often, removing food sensitivities will lessen their overall inflammation levels so that the body can catch up and heal other areas of the body. The presence of food sensitivities always indicates that the digestive system is not 100% healthy.

Treatment may include dietary changes, specific probiotic supplementation, or evaluating the gut for an underlying gastrointestinal infection. A persons toxic burden (the accumulated chemicals and heavy metals that build up within the body) also increases the severity and frequency of food sensitivities.

The health of your digestion is crucial to your overall health. Maintaining a food journal is a great first step in seeing if a food sensitivity is holding you back from optimal function.

If you would like to speak to me to ask questions about functional medicine, allergies or how I can help you, please schedule a Free 15 Minute Consultation or call or text my office at 913-728-5291.

My clinic offers functional medicine appointments as well as manual chiropractic treatments. I do online consultations for those out-of-state or outside of the United States.


If you think that you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately.  No action or inaction should be taken based solely on the contents of this information. Nor should you ever delay seeking medical advice or treatment due to the information contained on this Website.


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