Friday, 30 May 2014

The Importance of Tracking

When I first started seeing my Nutritionist I was asked to keep a food diary. It seemed like an easy task but it took me many months to realise the importance of recording accurate entries.

I started by just jotting down my breakfast, dinner and tea in my work notebook. It became clear that this was in no way enough information to be able to spot possible triggers or patterns. Just about everything can effect the health of your digestive system if you are sensitive or have issues. Since I had been living with a sensitive system for all these years, it's incredible to me that I didn't take this important step seriously in the beginning.

I now know how critical accurate recordings can be for narrowing down possible culprits if I have a reaction.

Let me think of an example. Let's say I am suffering from loose stools one morning, with bloating in the evening. I look at my tracker for the day before and see I have written:

Breakfast: Bacon, butternut squash, tomatoes. Lunch: Tuna and salad. Tea: Beef paleo lasagna, cauliflower and celeriac. Snacks: Some crackers. Nut butter. Banana.

This is seemingly enough information to give an overall picture of what I'd eaten on a particular day. And since I eat a wholefoods diet currently, I can be fairly sure that there are no nasty additives I should be worried about. However, my tracker gives no indication of quantities or times of meals and snacks. The snacks list in particular can be very important when it comes to time of day. Given my notes I could conclude that I haven't had anything funny and I must be reacting to something else! 'Oh what now?!' I inwardly sigh. 'What could I possibly be intolerant of now!?'

I am writing of personal experience now and this may not effect everyone in the same way. But if I had written my tracker in this format, maybe I could have found a solution much more easily:

Breakfast 0800: Bacon x3, Butternut Sq. Cherry Tomatoes (all grilled)
Lunch 1300: Tuna, lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, spring onions, red peppers.
Mid PM: Almond crackers x3, tsp nut butter.
Tea 1900: Paleo lasagna (layered ground beef with aubergine, tinned tomatoes, garlic, herbs, courgettes) Cauliflower, celeriac chips.
Pudding 1930: Banana.

Now this gives a much clearer idea of what I'd combined with what, and when. Now I can see that I ate a banana straight after my evening meal, which was a protein heavy lasagna. In some, fruit can cause some digestive issues due to it digesting at a much quicker rate than protein. It will become trapped behind the protein and ferment. In me, someone who already has a problem with early fermentation of foods in the digestive systems (possibly same for those on FODMAPs diets, or treating SIBO) this can cause gas and a change in stools. Now I know the cause, I can avoid repeating the same mistakes. I can also watch my intake of tomatoes, as I have had them with every meal and even as tinned tomatoes at my evening meal. These are acidic and I can choose to cut down or avoid the following day to see if I feel better.

I have, however, often exclaimed to my nutritionist that 'there is no way there is a pattern! I just can't eat! I'm one of those people that will be ill forever!' And yet, when presented with my tracker she can see an issue in my eating habits. We have found out that I don't tend to manage mixed protein sources too well, and so I will choose to avoid eggs with meats for example. (I do allow myself the classic bacon and eggs once a week! I seem to be able to tolerate this one off just fine. Any repeats in the week and I will start to feel it!)

So the tracker is my concrete evidence. If I skip on writing something down I am potentially hindering my progress on my path to wellness!

It has also helped me so much mentally. I am now much more clinical in my reaction to loose stools or tummy troubles. Once, on the night before a busy trip away to a convention, I had a couple of urgent bowel movements and I thought I was ill again. I believed I would never be fixed and I would always suffer from diarrhoea that seemingly struck whenever it fancied. I ran downstairs and begged my boyfriend, Ian, to help me end my life. 'I don't want to live through this!' I was panic stricken and this wasn't the first time. I had developed anxiety driven completely by my fear of losing control of my bowels. Just having one loose movement was enough to set this reaction off and start my panic attacks. 

A few blips

Now, through tracking my movements with accuracy and consistency, instead of panicking when I have loose stools, I find myself thinking about how to record it. I wonder how it will look in my week planner, how it would effect my week and whether or not I could figure out the cause if I were to read back over the last few days. Even if I have a really bad day, I can see the next day gets better. The tracker continues.

A good week if I do say so myself! :D 

Colour coding my symptoms has helped greatly too. I use green for a good movement, red for diarrhoea or a reaction, and orange for somewhere in the middle. When I look at the week as a whole, I often find much less reds than greens. This helps me consider the bigger picture. 

It is very important to think clinical about the situation as a whole, rather than have an emotional reaction to it.

I don't think I would be able to do this without keeping a thorough food and symptom diary.
It really helps!

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