How to Keep and Review Your Child’s Food Journal For Maximum Results
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Children with autism, ADHD, sensory processing disorder and other neurodevelopmental disorders often experience symptoms that are triggered by certain foods, habits, or environmental factors, or a lack of certain nutrients or habits. The many possible contributors to your child’s symptoms can seem impossible to nail down. To get to the bottom of your child’s symptoms, tracking his food intake along with other health details is key. Today I am going to show you how to get organized—from small details to the big picture—to help recover your child and How to Keep and Review Your Child's Food Journal For Maximum Results.
Garbage in Garbage Out
I'm sure you've heard this adage before: If you don't gather accurate and complete information, your decision-making process will be skewed, hampering your child’s results.
For example, if you didn't record every detail of a particular meal your child ate, including even the condiments, you might not realize that the ketchup she eats with her eggs in the morning might be triggering her hyperactivity (among other symptoms). Instead of simply reducing the phenols in her diet to reduce the symptoms while you work on the root cause (likely gut dysbiosis and support for the sulfation pathway), you went down another path that has taken up time, energy and money.
Sound familiar? Being detail-oriented when it comes to tracking your child’s health is key to getting to the bottom of her symptoms.
Tips for Gathering Details to Get the Best Results
Make it fun. If you are using a paper journal to record your child’s diet or other health details, have him decorate the journal and even write in it himself if he is old enough.
Take food photos. Take before-and-after pictures of the meal while your child is eating (so you know exactly what she did or didn’t eat) and record it in the journal later. You can also review it directly from the photos. Smartphones make this easy. If more than one person prepares meals for your child, share a photo album “in the cloud.” The photos will be time and date stamped, making it easier to track.
Take poop photos. I know, I know. It sounds peculiar. But the consistency and form of your child’s stool tells so much about his health. These photos can be helpful for practitioners to see, too. Trust me when I say, your practitioners have seen it all and won't think you are crazy for taking a poop shot. (I can't say the same for less-informed family and friends, so no sharing on Facebook. Ha!)
Take audio notes. There are so many apps these days that allow you to take audio notes. I use Evernote. You can create audio notes right in a “notebook” to record everything about your child's medical history, therapies, and education. It will be with you all the time.
Create a “Daily Details” Routine. At the end of your day—perhaps right after dinner, while your kids are bathing or after they are asleep—scroll through your pictures and listen to your audio recordings. Jot down pertinent details in a journal. The day-by-day details will begin to form patterns that can help you determine which direction to take with your child’s health. Find a consistent time that will make it easier to work this into your daily routine.
Get Techy. Use an app like Birdhouse for Autism, which can be used for any child with a neurodevelopmental disorder. This app will help you organize your health information. If you like technology, this is the way to go. Birdhouse has many features that make it a breeze to enter, track and review information to spot trends.
How to Extract Relevant Information from Your Food, Sleep, Mood and Poop Journal
Although it is important to keep a journal long (download the one I created for you here) enough to see real trends, it is also helpful to review the journal in the short term to make basic tweaks to your child's day to help improve their health and results as you go.
Scan the journal to see how your child did in each area. The daily review is more to help you make notes on the specifics so that you can refer back to them during weekly and monthly reviews. This review and note taking is essential for those of us who find it hard to keep track of what happened today, let alone what happened a month, week or even two days ago!
Some of the areas you may want to review and take additional notes on:
- Did your child get enough sleep? If not, why? Make notes so you don't forget the reasons in future reviews. Are there any small changes you can make now that might make a difference?
- How were your child's bowel movements? How many were there? Make quick notes on what you think might have impacted their bowel habits (i.e. didn't drink enough water, ate a suspicious food, etc.) Use the Bristol stool chart as a guide to document consistency, but be sure to also include colour, smell (foul odour, sulphur-like, no smell, etc.), float or sink, and any accompanying digestive symptoms.
- How was your child’s water intake? This can be quickly noted and adjusted for the next day.
- How was your child’s mood and behaviour? It is really important to write everything down and consider what you think may have contributed to the behaviour without coming to conclusions quite yet. When reviewed in the context of the week or month, you may have a completely different conclusion!
- What therapies/exercise did your child have today? It is amazing how these practices can impact a child's mood, behaviour, appetite, hydration level and bowel movements. Track the time, type and duration of the activities along with any other factors, such as mood, behavior and even timing and quality of bowel movements.
- What supplements and medications did your child take? Note the supplement or medication, dosage, and time. If you add or remove a supplement or medication, be sure to note it. Tracking responses to medication and supplements is important but can take some trial and error. Be consistent with your tracking. Over time, trends and patterns will emerge.
Pick a quiet time at the end of the week to review all the information you have gathered during the week. During the weekly review try to notice any trends that may be emerging.
A weekly review is not the time to make a big change to your child's protocol. Instead, make small tweaks, such as increasing hydration when you notice your child didn’t drink enough fluids or increasing dietary fibre when you notice your child is constipated.
It is often hard to resist making a change or trying something new after only one week of collecting data, especially if you are starting a new supplement protocol, diet or therapy and you are not seeing the result you expected or the symptoms you are trying to address actually get worse.
It is essential that you resist making a big change after just one week.
Often, worsening symptoms are considered a “healing” reactions, also known as a Herxheimer reaction. If your child experiences worsening symptoms, consult your practitioner team to gauge whether you should pull back or push through the symptoms.
If you don’t notice any improvements in a week's time, it can be disheartening, especially when you have taken on a challenging dietary change or an expensive supplement protocol. Although sometimes we see “miraculous” results with our children, unfortunately, the body usually takes longer to respond.
Summarize your ideas and keep a running list of your thoughts. It will come in handy once you do your monthly review.
Monthly Review: 30/60/90-Day
Now that you have at least a month's worth of data and you've completed daily and weekly reviews, it time to identify larger trends and patterns.
Keep in mind that, depending on what you are currently working on with your child, you may need to wait longer than 30 days to evaluate the results of your current interventions. For example, when you first implement the gluten-free/casein-free diet, you should wait at least six weeks to evaluate it's effectiveness to ensure that the body has had adequate time to downregulate its immune response to gluten and casein.
If you are using the MCWT Protocol & Therapy Review Worksheet to guide your journal review intervals, then you are on the right track! If you are not using the worksheet, download it here. It will help you streamline your process.
The Big Picture—How to Evaluate the Information You Have Collected
Now is the tricky part. What does all this information you've collected mean, and how do you use it to make decisions?
There is no one right way to evaluate your data. Over time, you will develop a strategy that work best for you. To help you, I have developed four tools that will allow you to more easily collect and analyze all of this information.
1. Protocol & Therapy Review Worksheet. This worksheet outlines your child’s therapies, diets, etc., along with the outcomes you hope to achieve and how to measure them. This tool will help you evaluate when it may be time to make a change or stay the course.
2. Food, Sleep, Mood and Poop Journal. This journal will help you track the details of your child’s diet, sleep habits, mood and bowel movements. It will help you find patterns where you might not have otherwise noticed them.
3. Biomedical & Nutritional Therapy Protocol Tracker. This tracker is a one-page summary of your child’s daily nutritional, supplement and therapy protocols to help keep you and other caregivers on the same page.
4. Food, Sleep, Mood and Poop Journal Review Checklist. This checklist will allow you to identify the symptoms your child experiences so that you can tie them back to the foods they are eating. It will also help you review other areas such as digestion, hydration and blood sugar management.
I know that the idea of using so many tools to track your child’s health can seem like a lot of work, but they will actually help you to minimize your efforts and save you time, money and frustration. Getting the right answers for your child sooner is worth the upfront work.
When you sign up for the entire My Child Will Thrive Tool Kit (it's free) you'll find videos where I walk through how all these tools work together to help you further understand the uses and benefits of these tools. If you are interested in working with me to review things like these tools and much more, then join me for the next RAIRE Method™ Implementation Workshop so I can help you gain the confidence and clarity need to take your next best steps with your child.
Let me know in the comments below or in the free My Child Will Thrive Village Facebook group, what is your biggest frustration with tracking and evaluating your child’s diet, supplements, and therapies?