It's ironic -- perhaps even poetic justice -- that I used to suffer from heartburn. As a registered dietitian, I knew all the coping tips and typical trigger foods. But the truth is, not all trigger foods bother every heartburn sufferer, and I wasn't about to give up chocolate without a fight! The solution? I kept a food diary to discover my personal heartburn triggers. A food diary helped me, and it can help you too. Here's how to do it right:
1. Write down everything you ingest. Don't limit it to foods you think give you heartburn, or you'll never know for sure which ones don't. You may also discover that foods that triggered heartburn in one situation are fine under different circumstances.
2. Be specific about what you eat and how it was prepared. Was it fried or baked, with cheese sauce or plain, with butter or low-fat margarine, etc.
3. Don't forget beverages. Note if it was cold or warm, carbonated or flat, caffeinated or not.
4. Don't wait until heartburn symptoms occurto write things down. By then you won't remember accurately, and your expectations may influence you.
5. Include details of your symptoms. Write down how severe they were and how long they lasted, and include any symptoms other than heartburn (e.g., hoarseness, stomach pain, asthma).
6. Record how long it took you to eat and how much you ate. This could prove as important as -- or more important than -- what you ate.
7. Write down your moodat each meal. Were you stressed? Relaxed? Rushed? Mental state can be a powerful heartburn influencer.
8. Pay special attention to oft-cited heartburn trigger foods. These include high-fat foods, peppermint, chocolate, caffeine, tomatoes, citrus, carbonated drinks and alcohol.
9. Note what you did right after you ate. Did you lie down on the sofa to watch TV? Or did you head to the gym to work out? These might be the real culprits.
10. Keep this diary for at least three days. You may even end up keeping it for as long as three weeks, depending on how often your heartburn happens.
11. Make a chart so you don't forget any important stuff. Divide it into at least four columns: date and time, what you ate, circumstances, and symptoms.
12. Evaluate diary entries by looking for patterns. Doing this might help explain your symptoms. Don't just look at the foods. Look also at how much and how fast you ate, what foods you had together, your mood, your activity afterward and even the day of the week. The results may surprise you, and they almost certainly will help you.
Susan Male-Smithis a registered dietitian and freelance nutrition and health writer. She has written for Family Circle, Redbook, Child and American Health, and she is a former editor of the Environmental Nutrition newsletter and co-author of Foods for Better Health.
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