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Nutrition

Here’s an Easy Way to Figure Out Your Heartburn Triggers

While research has shown that keeping a food journal can help with weight loss, tracking what you eat can be a helpful tool even if that isn’t your goal. It can clue you in on what nutrients you may be getting too much or too little of, help you narrow down the reasons behind emotional eating, and help you notice what foods lead to certain digestive issues, like heartburn. It seems easy enough, right? Eat, write, repeat. But there’s information you might not think of jotting down that could be helpful to your doctor later on. Here’s everything you need to know to make your food journaling really work.

What to Write in Your Journal

A food journal isn’t just about writing down what you eat—including extra information can make it easier for you to uncover patterns, symptoms, and (hopefully!) the causes behind what’s ailing you. Make sure to include:

  • What exactly you eat: Be specific! Did you have pizza, or pizza with peppers and pepperoni? What kind of aioli was on your burger? Toppings, sauces, and condiments still contain ingredients that could be causing you problems, so write those down.
  • What you drink: Don’t forget to track your liquids, too, including coffee, water, fruit juices, and sodas.
  • How much you eat: Think measurements: cups, weight, or numbers of items. So instead of “a burger,” note how many ounces it was, in addition to whatever else was on it (and see below for more tips on how to eyeball how much you’re eating!).
  • When you eat: Note the time of day—not just “lunch” or “snack,” but the actual time on the clock.
  • Where you eat: Not all meals take place at the kitchen table. Jot down exactly where you’re dining.
  • Who you’re with: Include families, friends, coworkers, anyone you share a meal with.
  • What you do while you eat: If you’re just eating, great; if not, note whether you’re working, watching TV, playing a game, reading, whatever.
  • How you feel: Taking the time to write down how you feel at mealtime can help you figure out patterns tied to emotional eating.

How to Estimate How Much You’re Eating (Without Going Crazy)

When you’re cooking at home, it’s a lot easier to measure out what you’re making. But sometimes, like when you’re out and about, it can be hard to know exactly how much you’re eating and what actually constitutes a serving size. Don’t kill yourself trying to mentally measure, weigh, or count what you’re eating; there’s no need to carry around a food scale. Estimating is fine—as long as you’re not consistently underestimating or “forgetting” to write down that second serving.

For example, a 3-ounce serving of lean meats is about the size of a deck of cards, while a cup of cooked or raw vegetables is about the size of a baseball. Making pasta? One cooked serving should be about the size of your fist, and if you’re adding cheese, a serving is about the size and shape of four dice. Once you start getting a hang of estimations like these, it gets a lot easier to eye your food and accurately record it.

The Cardinal Rules

No one’s perfect, but there are a few “musts” when it comes to keeping a food journal. Follow these rules to succeed:

1. Do it now: It’s hard to be as specific as possible—a crucial part of food journaling—if you’re relying on your memory at the end of a long day of meals and snacking. Carry your food journal with you (or use your phone), and write down all your info immediately after eating, so you don’t forget anything. You can also try one of these apps.

2. Be honest: Does it feel dumb to write down every stick of gum, piece of candy, or almond you snack on throughout the day? Maybe. But this journal is for you, and no one’s judging your eating habits—not even your doctor. All those little items that seem like NBD can be just as important as the big meals when it comes to providing insight into your eating habits.

Get more great health and wellness stories at EatingWell.com/Strive.