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Originally published May 12, 2013 at 6:08 AM | Page modified May 13, 2013 at 10:19 AM

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Pen and paper could be best prescription for change

Personal health journals chronicling everything from the foods you eat to the worries that keep you up at night can be highly effective at changing your behavior and also help you give better information to your physician.

Special to The Seattle Times

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On Health

How many times have you intended to make a change in your health and found yourself unsuccessful? We live in a world full of distractions and seemingly endless responsibilities, so it can be pretty difficult to make lasting changes in your health on your own.

Don’t give up. If you’ve been thinking about getting healthier, consider taking pen to paper instead. It’s not a high-tech approach, but can be effective in some scenarios, like the ones here:

“I’m eating less, but I haven’t lost a pound.”

Keep a food journal. In a study done last year at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, participants who consistently kept a diary of food and caloric intake lost more weight than those who didn’t. If you prefer to do this on your computer or phone, try an app like Just remember not to leave a single morsel off the list. Food journaling works best if you are truly honest with yourself.

“I stay up in bed worrying about the same things over and over again and can’t sleep.”

Try keeping a worry journal. On each page make two columns. In one column, write down each thing on your mind. In the next, write down when you are going to take care of the task or what steps you will take to resolve your worry. Doing this a few hours before bed might help you get to sleep better.

“I get migraines and wish I could keep them from happening.”

Keep a headache diary, which will enable you to track your headaches and identify potential triggers like certain foods, stress or lack of sleep. You can Google “headache diary” and find a few templates online. has a basic one.

“I get gassy some days more than others.”

For mild symptoms of bloating, gassiness or intermittent diarrhea, you may be able to identify a pattern on your own by keeping a log of the foods that you have eaten when your symptoms occur. It’s more difficult to determine a cause later on in a doctor’s office if you can’t remember exactly what you ate.

Doctor: “When was your last period?” You: “I don’t remember.”

Tracking your period can be helpful for many reasons: from convenience to estimating the due date of a pregnancy to figuring out if you’re postmenopausal. There are apps (like Period Diary) for tracking your menstruation, but a paper calendar or your smartphone calendar will work well enough.

“I plan to quit smoking for good this time.”

Set a quit date and write it down everywhere. Circle it on a calendar in the kitchen or family room for all to see. This little trick — which encourages accountability — can help you be more successful. Also, write down your triggers for smoking and write substitutions you could use, like eating a sugar-free lollipop or going for a walk.

Your doctor cannot be with you 24 hours a day, seven days a week. But by journaling or self-tracking, you can make big changes or some little changes that make a big impact on your overall health.

Linda Pourmassina, MD, is an Internal Medicine physician who practices at The Polyclinic in Seattle. She authors a blog at and can also be found on Facebook and on Twitter (@LindaP_MD).

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