How to Keep A Health Journal

When I was regularly in training mode, prepping for my next race, I consistently kept a training log for every mile ran and counted every calorie in MyFitness Pal. It was important for me to track my distance and paces, but I was still locked in the belief that weight was the primary indicator of good health. And, that maintaining a certain weight simply meant burning more calories than I took in.

The problem with this approach is that it doesn't take into account other lifestyle factors that influence our health beyond diet and exercise.

Things like how much sleep you get, how often you poop and what your poop is like, how you manage all the different stressors in your life, how fulfilling is your work, and if you have a support system around that meets your emotional needs. 

I've since transformed my thinking and evolved my training log and calorie counter to a health journal that encapsulates all of the expanded details of my day. Now I'm able to have a complete view of just what's going on in my mind and body.

What is a health journal?

Before I dive into a how to keep a health journal, let's explore what a health journal is and how I keep one.

A health journal is exactly what it sounds like. A daily log that I keep recording all the things I listed above.

Let's walk through it:

First, I start each week reviewing (or setting) goals. I also reflect on the progress that I've made towards it, and what my support system will be for the upcoming week.

Next, I explore ways that I can practice self-care each day of the forthcoming week. That could be taking an extra long walk, reading a book that I've been putting off, taking an Epsom salt bath - anything that relaxes my mind and makes me feel joyful. Making time to take care of myself is essential to managing my daily stress. Personally, self-care was something that I always thought of as a "nice-to-have" versus an essential. So writing it down makes me more committed to making it happen.

Then I do a little meal planning. I brainstorm what I want to eat in the upcoming week, and do research for quick and easy recipes that I use. I refer to my favorite cookbooks, look through Evernote for blog posts I've saved (I have a filing system for this!), and then Pinterest (my last resort because we all know what a black hole Pinterest can end up being). I have an idea; something identified, for every breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. I find that if I create a game plan, then I'm not aimlessly wondering what to eat when dinner time arrives; because that's when I typically make poor choices.

Finally, I look at my daily habits:

  • How many hours of sleep did I get the night before? What was the quality of the sleep?
  • When did I poop and what was it like. Believe it or not, your poop can tell you A LOT about what's going on in your body. The Bristol Stool Chart can help you understand more about this.

I write down what I ate - this includes everything including what types of oil was used for cooking, spices - everything. I don't track calories, but I will note how much of something I ate; i.e., a rough estimate of one cup of blueberries, one cup of almond milk, etc. 

Lastly, I capture how I felt that day - how was my mood, what were my emotions; what exercise I did and any other special things I want to take note of.

At the end of each day, I reflect on how the day went; and at the end of each week I write down what worked, what didn't work and any takeaways I learned.

Why keep a health journal?

I've found my health journal to be one of the most important tools in figuring out what's going on with my health. 

Reviewing it on a regular basis has been KEY to helping me connect the dots and identify foods that I may have an adverse reaction to, patterns of emotional eating, reasons I might be having cravings and lifestyle factors I may need to focus on improving.

There isn't a lab test you can take that will give you a complete picture, a holistic view, of what's really going on with you. That's what make a health journal so powerful.

Three Ways to Keep One:

Now, you may be thinking, "OMG who has time to track all of this?!" But I promise it doesn't take very long at all.

I usually spend about 30-min on Sundays reflecting on goals and creating my meal plan. Then, during the week, it only takes a minute to record what I ate, and about 10-minutes to reflect on it at the end of the day. It's time well-spent for the benefit I get out of it.

Here are strategies on how to do this that have all worked for me at different times in my life:

1 | Use a simple notebook

If you are an analog person, get a brand new notebook and use it exclusively as your health journal! Easy peasy!

My favorite notebooks are here and here.

2 | The mySymptoms app

There are a lot of apps out there that track your calories or your workouts. But I wasn't able to find a single one that captured everything I wanted to track. I've tried to hack many of them but none of them worked out quite right.

About a year ago I discovered the mySymptoms app. This is the only app that I've come across that allows me to track everything that I want to. It's able to give me a complete insight into my health.

And I love that I can export it to a PDF. It's come in handy when I've needed to take it to a doctor's appointment to review with my integrative medicine doctor.

3 | The Food Mood Poop Journal

If you've never kept a health journal before, it can feel a bit overwhelming thinking about all the things you may want to track. Like anything that you are new to, it's okay to feel this way.

That's why I have the Food Mood Poop to help you get started.

Often, when we're tired all the time, have constant gas and bloating, or any other ailments, we're quick to look for the nearest supplement or pharmaceutical or diet to find the "root cause." 

But it's important to back things up, get back to basics and take an honest look at our daily lifestyle habits, because that's usually where the "root cause" really is.

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Naomi Nakamura is a certified Holistic Health Coach who takes a holistic approach through functional nutrition. Through her weekly show, The Live FAB Live Podcast, coaching programs, and safer skincare solutions, she helps people with acne and other chronic skin issues clear up their skin by teaching them where food meets physiology and how food, gut health, stress, and toxins are intricately connected to the health and appearance of our skin. Naomi resides in the San Francisco Bay Area and can often be found romping around the city with her puppy girl, Coco Pop! Connect with Naomi at: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest.