Will a food journal help you take charge of emotional eating?

I’ve been getting lots of questions about how to take charge of overeating and emotional eating lately. One of the hot issues that people have questions about is about how to use a food journal to help with emotional eating.

In my recent teleclass, Joyce asked, “I try to journal what I eat, but seem to stop in a very short time. I have tried every size of notebook from purse sized to 8X11. I just can’t seem to make it second nature. I want to write food and feelings, especially when snack attack hits. Any suggestions?”

This is a great question. We hear so much about how helpful journaling and especially journaling around food can be, and yet, I can literally count on my two hands the number of people I’ve encountered in the last 14 years of practice who have kept food diaries and stuck with it consistently.

Many people hate to keep food diaries—and do you know why? Most of us start to feel like we have the food police breathing down our necks when we start writing down everything we put into our mouths. Writing down the food we eat does keep us accountable and that CAN be incredibly helpful, but for too many people, writing down each bite also gets our negative and self-judgmental voices stirred up. Many people end up feeling bad or guilty or uncomfortable with the idea of food journals. They avoid them or even find themselves not being truthful with their entries. Not only is this NOT helpful, it compounds feelings of guilt and shame that can sidetrack us even further.

Here’s my suggestion. If your efforts to keep a food journal keep getting off track, try a different approach. Journal about your eating, but put the focus on the emotions, not the food. Use the journal to help you investigate what’s going on before, during, and after you eat—NOT the calories or specific amounts that you eat. Use the journal to be curious about your hunger level or your emotions or your stress level around eating. This kind of journaling is a really powerful tool for targeting emotional eating. I include a specialized journal in my Emotional Eating Toolbox™ Self-guided Program that asks specific questions that really target these areas. It’s very specific. But in general, what you want to do is take the focus off the food. When you focus on tracking the food you eat, that’s a nutrition journal. While this might be helpful, it won’t get you anywhere with emotional eating. What you want to do is take the focus off the food and ask yourself about any feelings or emotions that are involved in your desire to eat. Try changing the focus of your journal and see if it helps.

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