Esther Kane’s Emotional Eating Diary
I want you to share with you an incredibly helpful exercise I developed which I give to my clients who struggle with food issues. I call this tool the ’emotional eating diary’. It is particularly helpful for identifying emotional eating patterns and learning to change them by replacing them with healthier alternatives.
Keep in mind that having regular “snack-cidents” is most likely a very old habit pattern for you, and will not be easy to change overnight. To decrease the occurrence of emotional eating episodes, you have to work with one “snack-cident”at a time with mindfulness, persistence, and patience.
By using the emotional eating diary consistently and regularly, you will begin to identify patterns and triggers that lead to emotional eating. This will give you the gift of awareness of your emotional state and its connection to your eating. This awareness is the key to achieving long-term, sustained change in your eating habits since, only once you’re aware of something, can you then choose to change it.
The emotional eating diary is to be used right after you have overeaten for emotional reasons (i.e., following a ‘snack-cident’). It takes about 2-5 minutes to fill in which is a small investment in time in order to heal yourself from this destructive habit in the long-run.
You can find many versions of the emotional eating diary in my book, It’s Not About the Food, which I suggest you photocopy and fill in when needed. In fact, I dedicate an entire chapter to emotional eating which goes into great detail about why we tend to eat for emotional reasons, along with many tools to help you stop doing that.
How to Use Esther’s Emotional Eating Diary
I will use a fictional client of mine. We will call her Sally to illustrate how to use each part of the diary.
Date & Time:
Record the day of the week as well as the actual date and the time that this emotional eating episode happened. This is very important if you want to be able to find patterns in your emotional eating so that you can figure out what is driving them and then replace this destructive habit with something constructive instead. For example, Sally noticed over time that she had ‘snack-cidents’ on weekdays right after she finished work at 5:00 pm.
Degree of Hunger:
How hungry were you according to this scale before you started the emotional eating episode?
You may also find it helpful to assess how hungry you were according to the scale after the emotional eating episode. In this example, Sally found that she was a 5 on the hunger scale which is ‘neutral’ before the emotional eating episode. However, after her ‘snack-cident’, she was an 8 on the scale which is ‘very full’.
Food Eaten & How Much:
Here, you write out exactly what you ate during this episode, and how much. This isn’t intended to cause shame and self-disgust, but instead, to figure out what types of food you were going for when you were having certain feelings so that you can figure out your triggers, and how to prevent them in future. In this example, Sally wrote down that she ate a large bag of potato chips and two chocolate bars.
Where I Was at the Time:
Write down where the eating episode happened. Again, this will help you to identify themes and patterns so that you can prevent future episodes. In this example, Sally found that her ‘snack-cidents’ only took place in her car when she was between work and going home to feed her family. With this knowledge, she decided that eating in the car was off-limits in future in order to gain some control over this habit.
What Just Happened:
Examining what has just happened lets you know if there was a precipitating event which led to the emotional eating episode. In this example, Sally wrote down that she had experienced a really stressful day at work, and was run off her feet and felt that no matter how much she did, she wasn’t appreciated by her boss or her coworkers.
What I did After Eating:
In this column, you write down what you did right after the ‘snack-cident’. Did you purge by making yourself throw up? Did you hit the gym and do a strenuous workout to “work it off”? In this example, Sally went to pick up her kids from school and then straight home to make her family dinner. She ended up eating dinner with everyone else, even though she was really full.
What I Was Feeling at the Time:
Here, you write down the emotion that you were feeling just before you started eating. In this example, Sally identified that she was feeling anxious, stressed and exhausted.
I consider the last two columns in the emotional eating diary to be the most important. They are the key to replacing a destructive habit with something constructive instead. Do not skip them.
What I Really Needed Instead of Food:
Whenever we eat for emotional reasons, rather than physical hunger, we have an emotional unmet need which needs to be addressed. In Sally’s case, she realized that she needed a break and was pushing herself too hard. The time she spent in her car eating was how she took a “time out” for herself. It was the only time in her day when she could slow down, and do something just for her.
How I Could Nurture Myself Without Food Next Time:
It’s incredibly important to figure out how we can meet our emotional needs and nurture ourselves without using substances like food. I have a very comprehensive list of great ideas in my book. In this example, Sally realized that she could nurture herself and slow down and take time for herself by doing a 15-minute meditation in her car after work before she picked up her kids.
Contact me to set up a free 15-minute phone consultation to explore doing counselling sessions to heal your relationship with food and body image.
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