How to Keep a Food Journal for People Struggling with Binge and Over-Eating: Anyone who has ever kept a personal journal or diary knows how therapeutic it can be to write down your innermost thoughts on paper. For people who binge on food or overeat, keeping a food journal means writing your way through emotional distress rather than eating your way through it. This tip is for people who binge and over-eat, not for people who restrict or are solely focused on losing weight. Keeping a food journal is not about counting calories or meeting a weight loss goal: it’s about examining your relationship with food. It can be difficult to start a food journal for binge and over-eaters because of shame: Why can’t I eat like a “normal person”? How did I let myself get to the point where I need to write down what I eat? Keeping a food journal is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign of strength, a sign that you are aware that your relationship with food needs to be examined and that you are brave enough to practice self-awareness. First, we’ll start off with a few of the reasons why keeping a food journal can help you gain more control over your binge and over-eating. It’s much easier to incorporate new behaviors in your routine when you know why you’re doing them! Then, we’ll go over how to keep a food journal.
Why Keep a Food Journal?
For many people, writing about difficult events in a journal improves their well-being because it allows them to examine the events more closely and helps them find out and understand more about who they are. Keeping a food journal can help you gain a better sense of your eating patterns and their relationship with your emotions.
Writing in a food journal is not about counting calories; It helps you explore your feelings and keep track of your progress toward changes in your eating and emotional coping skills you’d like to make. Your food journal is a good place to set up your goals and list any habits you’re trying to break. Some common goals might be to abstain from eating past a certain time in the evening or eat snacks throughout the morning to prevent overeating in the afternoon. Writing in your food journal every day and referring to it often when you lose sight of your goals can help to keep you mindful of your desire to develop a healthier relationship with food.
A food journal helps you keep track of what, when, why, and how much you actually eat so you can identify patterns or habits you’d like to change. Once you recognize the patterns that are causing problems, you can take steps to change them. The great thing about keeping a food journal is that you may learn about patterns or problems that you weren’t even aware of. For example, you may find that when you were trying to have a “good” day with food, you ate a banana for breakfast, a garden salad for lunch, and then binged throughout the evening! With the help of a food journal, you’ll be able to realize that you went into the evening with only a few hundred calories and, essentially, set yourself up to binge that night.
Keeping a food journal will help you discover the links between boredom, stress, and other emotions and eating. You can be more aware of how specific foods, behaviors, settings, and even people affect you. Perhaps you notice that you tend to overeat when you are with your partner? Or have a pattern of binging the night before a weekly staff meeting? In your food journal, be as detailed as possible about the events that occur and emotions you feel while you’re eating. After you find the links between eating and your emotions, you can substitute coping mechanisms other than food more strategically like taking a walk when you feel overwhelmed instead of eating or listening to a guided meditation before you eat a meal where you tend to eat till you feel stuffed. There is no such thing as good food and bad food; what matters is moderation and the relationship between your emotions and eating.
How To Keep a Food Journal
To create a food journal, you can use a section of a journal you’re already using, calendar, notebook, or even a few pieces of paper stapled together. Your food journal should be easy to carry and have enough space for at least a week’s worth of entries. You could also keep your food journal as a note on your cellphone or a password protected document on your computer. There are many smart phone apps dedicated to logging your food intake, but not necessarily dedicated to exploring how your eating and emotions may be connected. These applications may be helpful, but keep the following in mind: THIS FOOD JOURNAL IS NOT ABOUT LOSING WEIGHT. The food journal is not about counting calories. A smart phone app where you can record your food intake, how you felt as you ate, and where you can also read positive affirmations to help you along as you learn more about yourself is RR: Eating Disorder Management.
Here is the layout for keeping a food journal:
Write the following categories across the top of each page: Time Began, Hunger Level, Food, Thoughts/Feelings, Location, Partner(s), Time Ended, Hunger Level End, and Notes.
Whether you eat a full meal or a quick bite, record the following information in your food journal:
- -Under Time Began, write the time you started eating. The time can be approximate. No need to stress out about writing down the exact time you started eating.
- -Under Hunger Level, rate how hungry you felt before you started to eat from 1-10 (10 meaning starving and 1 meaning stuffed to the point where you can’t imagine eating one more bite).
- -Under Food, write what you ate and the amount you ate.
- -Under Thoughts/Feelings, write down your mood, the thoughts, and feelings you experience before and after the meal or snack.
- -Under Location, fill in where you were eating,
- -Under Partner(s), write down the names of anyone you were eating with.
- -Under Time Ended, fill in the time you stopped eating. This can help keep you mindful of how fast or slow you eat.
- -Under Hunger Level End, rate how hungry you felt after you ate from 1-10 (10 meaning starving and 1 meaning stuffed to the point where you can’t imagine eating one more bite).
- -Under Notes, you can go into more detail about your feelings and thoughts as you were eating or thoughts about how you’d like to go about eating tomorrow.
Here are a few example entries!
Time Began: 7 AM
Hunger Level: 7
Food: 2 hard boiled eggs, 1 hash brown, ketchup, 1 cup of coffee with milk
Thoughts/Feelings: Before Eating: Hungry, Stressed about getting to work on time. After Eating: Stressed about the commute. Regretful, wishing I woke up earlier to make myself lunch to bring to work.
Time Ended: 7:15 AM
Hunger Level - 3
Notes: I was in a rush to get to work.
Time Began: 8:30 AM
Hunger Level - 3
Food: 3 chocolate chip cookies
Thoughts/Feelings: Before Eating: Anxious and Stressed, “I have to try one.” After Eating: Guilty, Disappointed with myself
Partner: My co-worker
Time Ended: 8:34 PM
Hunger Level End - 1
Notes: I really ate those cookies fast. I didn’t feel hungry but they looked really good. My co-worker at one and I would have felt weird if I didn’t take one too. But then I felt like I couldn’t stop. I also ate them pretty fast.
Time Began: 12:00 PM
Food: Meatball Marinara Foot-Long Sandwich on Whole Wheat Bread, Bottle of Soda, 8 oz bag of Chips
Hunger Level: 9
Thoughts/Feelings: Before Eating: Hungry, Jealous After Eating: Lonely, Sad, Uncomfortably Full
Time Ended: 12:35 PM
Hunger Level: 1
Notes: My co-worker went to get lunch with another co-worker without asking me if I want to come along. I feel left out and lonely. I was hungry, but I feel stuffed, like I ate too much. But the sandwich and chips got my mind off of how alone I feel at this restaurant.
Try to fill in all the categories as soon as you start and finish eating so you don’t forget! The more accurate your food journal is, the better, but don’t stress yourself out if it is incomplete at the end of the day. You can try to fill more categories in the next day! It can be difficult to write down and confront how much you actually eat throughout the day or the reasons why you eat. Try to be brave and keep an honest record in your journal. Writing down positive self-affirmations in your journal is a great way to encourage you to stay truthful. Looking at a note like “You’ve got this!” or “Dang, you are so brave” can be really comforting when you had a meal you feel shameful to journal about. Hiding information from yourself is part of what you need to change in order to reduce your binge and over-eating.
Your health is so important. Sometimes Food Journaling isn’t enough to bring about a healthy change in your eating habits. Work with your primary care physician or a nutritionist on how you can help build healthy eating habits. Another great resource to utilize on your journey is individual and group therapy. Contact the Center for Growth to found out how we can help you find ways to cope with your emotions in ways that don’t involve food.