Ulcerative Colitis: Starting a Food Diary

Medically Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on May 16, 2022

Your head is packed with nutrition tips to help manage your ulcerative colitis (UC). Caffeinated drinks or high-fat or fiber-rich foods? Eat with caution. Smaller meals more often? A big yes.

But even all the careful planning might not be enough to soothe your symptoms. Food itself doesn’t cause UC. But different foods can worsen flares in different people.

A food diary can help flag the offenders and zero in on the foods that help keep the peace in your colon.

How a Diary Can Help

When you track everything you eat and drink, along with your symptoms, you can make key connections to stay healthy. The insights can help you:

Steer clear of troublemaker foods in the future.

Replace nutrients like fat, protein, and vitamins and minerals you lose when your appetite wanes, or if you have diarrhea, which makes it harder for your body to absorb water and nutrients from food.

Help you heal. When a flare-up happens, the lining of your large intestine swells and gets tiny open sores called ulcers. So it helps to know what might prevent painful outbreaks.

What Should You Track?

Food: Keep a tally of everything you eat and drink for 2 to 4 weeks. A well-rounded log should include:

  • What you eat
  • Portion size. Snacks count, too.
  • Time of day
  • Where you ate. Dined at home, in a restaurant, or at a meeting?
  • How your food was prepared and combined. Was it fried or greasy? Did you drink a soda with lunch?

Symptoms: The most useful journals also include symptoms so you can go back and draw important links. The details are useful for your doctor and dietitian, too. Note symptoms like:

Continence: Did you make urgent visits to the bathroom? Did you reach it in time?

Details about your bowel movements, like the look of your stools or how often you poop.


Pain: Note what kind, and if it’s mild or serious.

Other details:

  • Exercise you had that day
  • Medications and supplements
  • Your mood throughout the day


Ways to Journal

Detailed doesn’t have to mean dull. Journals, online template sheets, and electronic devices may make it easy to track even your smallest bites. Are you a laptop user? An android or Apple app fan? There’s an approach for you.

Go digital. This computer program turns your tablet or smartphone into a portable diary. But keep in mind that many digital tools are written without professional medical input and guidelines. Use them as a handy template to pair with other methods. The American Gastroenterological Association offers an app called My IBD Manager.

Go pen and paper. Free food and symptom log sheets abound on the Internet. Downloadable sources include:

  • The American Academy of Family Physicians’ form keeps it simple, with just the food facts.
  • The Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions’ diet diary features a pain and discomfort scale.
  • The Personal Daily Diary from the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders clearly lays out symptoms and other lifestyle details you might wish to note along with your food intake.

A blank bound journal is another handy way to keep everything in one place.

When to Log

You should keep your journal daily, for as long as you need to track your diet and symptom patterns.

What time is best? Log as you go, while your recall is sharp.

What if you’re away from your diary? Text or email yourself, or use a voice-to-text app to make sure no detail gets away. You can even tell an electronic assistant to note that handful of potato chips you had between business calls.

Show Sources


Mayo Clinic: “Lifestyle and Diet in Inflammatory Bowel Disease.” Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation: “Colitis Treatment Options,” “What Is Ulcerative Colitis?” “Living with Ulcerative Colitis.”

BMJ Open: “Adapting to Ulcerative Colitis to Try to Live a ‘Normal’ Life: A Qualitative Study of Patients’ Experiences in the Midlands Region of England.”

International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders: “Symptom Diary.”

JMIR mHealth and uHealth: “Mobile Phone Apps for Inflammatory Bowel Disease Self-Management: A Systematic Assessment of Content and Tools.”

American Academy of Family Physicians: “Nutrition: Keeping a Food Diary.”

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