Should I Keep a Food Journal? | TMOHP Episode 026

Food journals or food diaries or journaling your eating - odds are you’ve either tried these things or told yourself you “should". But are these practices effective ways to stop emotional eating or overeating - or are they just self-imposed torture?

The answer: it’s complicated.

Should you keep a food journal? Maybe.

Let’s talk about the problem with food diaries and another option for using food journaling or journaling about your eating to get powerful results. And let’s be clear about why the old-school way of logging your food probably hasn’t worked in the past.

What you’ll learn in this episode:

  • The pros and cons of food diaries
  • How to prevent a food journal from feeling like punishment or something that you “have to” do
  • What to log and what not to log (for best and farthest-reaching results)
  • How to customize this strategy so that it works best for you

Featured on the show:

  • Take the free Hidden Hungers Quiz and find out your primary Hidden Hunger and your best place to start shifting your relationship with food.
  • Your Missing Peace. If you want to be a part of a small group where I coach you to create freedom from overeating and emotional eating, and where you learn how to retrain your brain to change your eating, then this is the emotional eating program for you. Go here to learn more.  
  • Visit for more tips and resources to create peace with food and overcome overeating and emotional eating.

Episode Transcript

A question I get a lot is about logging your food.

“It’s time to lose weight . . . My emotional eating is out of control . . . I’ve put on 20 pounds because of stress eating . . . Should I keep a food diary?”

To be honest, the question I usually hear is: How can I make myself keep a food diary?

Or “I know. I should be logging my food and keeping a food diary.  Right?”  

Well . . .  research shows that recording what you eat leads to weight loss. Maybe. At least in the short term - sometimes the very short term. But it’s actually more complicated than this.

The right kind of food journaling or journaling about your eating can be extremely useful. The wrong kind - and most of us are familiar with the wrong kind - can lead to self-sabotage, more overeating, and guilt and shame that don’t help anything.

First, let’s be clear. I can literally count on my two hands the number of people I’ve encountered in the last 25 years of practice who kept old school food diaries, stuck with them consistently, and felt good about themselves and the practice.

Many people hate to keep food diaries - and you probably know why. The concept of tracking what you eat has often been suggested by someone else. And it’s not unusual to feel like you have the food police breathing down your neck - or monitoring you - when you start feeling like you need to write down everything you put into your mouth. The FEELING behind keeping any kind of food journal is important - I’ll say more about this in a moment.

Writing down or tracking the food you eat does create a type of accountability. It can also slow down autopilot eating and raise awareness - which is helpful. We can’t make choices about things we aren’t aware of or attending to. But for many women, writing down each bite also gets your 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 lying or “cheating” on their own entries. Hint - when you’re lying to yourself about what you ate, your intention in tracking your food needs a closer look.

When you have guilt or shame or feel compelled to cheat when tracking your eating, not only is the practice not helpful, it compounds the negative feelings which can sidetrack you into even more overeating.

So - should you keep a food journal or journal your eating? You might be surprised to know that I think it can be extremely helpful if you’re overeating or an emotional eater, or someone who tends to overeat mindlessly. In fact, there’s a special protocol that I teach inside the Your Missing Peace program where we approach this very strategically. While I’m not going to go into all the details of that today - I do want to cover how to use food journaling to create great results for yourself.

You want to use keeping a food journal as a curiosity tool or a learning tool - not as a journal of shame or guilt. I said earlier that the feeling or intention behind any kind of food journaling is important. I cannot stress this enough. The decision to use a food journal has to be something that you choose. Something that you do for yourself. Something that you see as a tool to empower yourself. It won’t work if it’s something you are “having to do.” If it’s something you’re doing TO yourself or if it’s a “should” that you feel obligated to do. This all sets you up for inner pushback and rebelliousness and a deprivation mentality. Now sure, if you’ve had bad experiences with food logs in the past, you might not feel great about trying something like this again, but the decision to try or to experiment with it needs to be YOUR choice. You want to use keeping a food journal as a curiosity tool or a learning tool - not as a journal of shame or guilt.

It’s not a food log. Here’s where things get so much more powerful than food logs you may have kept in the past. Put the focus on the emotions, the situation, your physical state, and what you know about WHY you chose to eat in that moment. Not the food. This helps you begin to see patterns and reasons for your eating. This helps you get clear on what you’re feeling or needing or why you may be feeling triggered to overeat.

Use your 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. Use your food journal to learn and grow. Again, I really want to emphasize and I want you to feel in your body the difference between deciding to try keeping a journal of your eating vs. feeling like this is a thing that you have to do. You get to decide. You are in charge. A tenet of Your Missing Peace - which is my 16-week coaching program for women who are ready to permanently end cycles with overeating and emotional eating is that you only create freedom and peace with food when you are in charge. You are the CEO of your life and your well-being. If you’ve spent a lot of time immersed in diet culture, you may have forgotten this or come to believe that your job is to be an obedient student. That’s not true. This is your life and your relationship with food. The magic and the real freedom happens when you learn how to take your power back and create a relationship - a way of eating that fits you and that you love. Using a journal to learn about your eating can be a powerful part of this, if you choose it.

Again, one of the key points is that you want to take the focus off the food. When you focus on tracking each bit of food that you eat, that’s a nutrition journal. While it can help you to track your nutrition, it won’t get you anywhere with emotional eating. Because as long as all you’re writing down is amounts of food, you aren’t learning anything about why the food ended up in your hand or on your plate. And THIS is the interesting stuff that really gives you the power to make amazing changes.

When you get clarity on the reasons you’re eating or the needs you are experiencing or the triggers that are happening, then you can address these. And these things are individual to you. So on a coaching call in Your Missing Peace, one woman had a pattern of getting too hungry - and then losing control. Another woman wasn’t getting a break between her Zoom meetings and was mindlessly overeating. Another participant recognized that she was sleeping really poorly due to stress. The power to change comes in uncovering and beginning to address these things. 

The old-school food log where you write down 24 baby carrots and a cheese quesadilla doesn’t help you with any of that. The way I’m suggesting you journal around your eating can open completely different doors.

Another key to effectively keeping a food journal is to experiment with tracking other details of your eating experience. Be curious and open and see what you learn. This type of journaling might tell you exactly what you need to know to take your power back from emotional eating.

Now there’s one more thing, that I’m sure you’ve realized. Journaling your eating doesn’t come with a magic wand that helps you fix any challenges you encounter.

You might be thinking - so what good is it to discover I’m stress eating if I don’t know what to do about stress? Of course, I’m stress eating!

Two things. If you give yourself permission to play with this tool, you will find some reasons you overeat that you do have control over. And, if you’re human, you’ll likely find some reasons you’re overeating because that seems like the best or only option. If you knew what else to do, you’d be doing it.

But. Just because you don’t know the answer, doesn’t mean the problem isn’t a problem. The first step is journaling around your eating. Being curious and creating awareness. That will bring you clarity about the problems or issues that are giving food the power it has in your life.

Figuring out what to do about it is a separate step, and there are options, including joining me in Your Missing Peace - I’ll put the link in the show notes. Remember,  you don’t have to figure out everything perfectly in one go. Again, like most humans, you won’t be able to. Progress forward is still progress and your results happen one step at a time..

With this mindset, you can use journaling about your eating as a way to keep learning and growing. Think of the journaling as a data collection system.

Once you’ve made your journaling habit a data collection system, there are no “bad” days to record. There are simply experiences that have more learning than others. Once you stop looking only for “screw ups” and “great days” you can start really mining another source of power from keeping a food journal. You can start asking questions like:

“Why did I eat so much sugar on Wednesday?”

“Why was Tuesday so much easier?”

“Why do I always end up at the vending machine after staff meetings?”

“Why does my eating feel more in control in the morning?”

“What helped me do so well today when yesterday was so challenging?”

THESE are the million-dollar questions that can lead to exponential changes in the way you eat, and ultimately, in what you weigh.

So, my friend, should you keep a journal around your eating? You decide. You’re the CEO and it’s you’re relationship with food. I hope these thoughts offer a fresh perspective.

Talk soon.

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Your Missing Peace is the psychologist-designed program that provides the tools, the support, the coaching, and the confidence to create freedom from emotional eating and overeating. Finally - emotional eating help done right! Your Missing Peace is specifically designed for smart, high-achieving women who are DONE with diets, who want a lasting solution, and who are ready to take their power back from food, from overeating, and the scale. 

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