As I discussed in my last article, mindful eating is a great way to create a positive relationship with food, but have you ever considered how a food journal can help?
It can be tricky to get started or grow this practice on its own. That’s where one of my favorite — and simple — tools comes into play: the mindful eating journal.
Keeping a mindful eating journal is an excellent practice that helps us observe how our body and mind relate to our food and eating experience.
It can serve as a tool to remind us to check in and direct our attention to the present moment and eating experience.
It can also turn a simple meal into a vehicle of insight into the mind.
You may be familiar with the mindfulness technique of mental noting, or labeling thoughts and sensations using a single word or phrase as they arise during meditation.
This simple act of noting helps us detach from identification with these thoughts and sensations. It also helps us become more specific in describing what we are thinking or feeling, and helps us recognize patterns in our experience.
You can extend the practice of mental noting to the eating experience using a mindful eating journal.
By noting what arises and how our minds respond (attachment, aversion, etc.), we learn that we are not the owner of our thoughts and conditioning around food, but rather a mindful observer.
Over time, journaling these occurrences can help us find patterns where our relationship with food is causing physical or emotional suffering.
Journaling is also my first step for helping patients figure out food sensitivities and intolerances, developing therapeutic elimination/reintroduction diets, and systematically expanding restrictive diets.
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Beginning a Mindful Eating Food Journal
A mindful eating journal is inherently personal, so it will look different for everyone.
To get started, just jot down whatever you eat or drink, and make note of your thoughts, feelings, or behaviors. As you begin, I recommend that you choose just one of these and make note of it.
You might begin with the most pertinent category to your situation, or if you’re new to journaling, simply start with what you ate.
Most people I work with benefit from noting their feelings before, during, and after eating. Sensations like gas, bloating, reflux, indigestion, and running to the bathroom are all good information, as are energy levels, and even heart rate.
If you become lost in anxious thought during the eating experience (you’re not alone!), perhaps because of a fear that you are eating something unhealthy or that will cause a bad reaction, you may want to simply note “what am I thinking?” before, during, and after eating. It doesn’t need to be anything elaborate — just a word or two will do.
If you’re more likely to eat on the run or while being distracted by your phone, work, the news, or Instagram (you’re also not alone!), you might simply note “what am I doing while I’m eating?”
If journaling doesn’t come naturally to you, you might consider a simple photo journal.
There are apps for this, but I also have clients who create a private Instagram account just for their mindful eating journal. This way you can just snap and write a caption.
You can also include some daily check-ins for yourself. You could include the mindful eating basics like “relax before you eat”, “chew your damn food”, or “pay attention to this bite.”
A Journey to Rebuild Your Relationship with Food
No matter where you start, you will be laying the foundation for further exploration. As you get comfortable with the idea of a food journal that has nothing to do with calories or carbs, you can expand to explore more categories, more sensations, and even what kind of hunger you are experiencing (we’ll get into this in my next article!).
Just remember that mindful eating is deliberately paying attention to the eating experience — without judgement.
Likewise, the point of keeping a journal is not to find flaws, but to ground ourselves in the moment, observe what arises, and tap into the innate satisfaction of eating.
Ultimately, you will gain insight into the relationship between your thoughts, sensations, external inputs (ads, fads, social media, your nutritionist), the food you eat, and your behavior. And it’s that insight that can make all the difference as you strengthen your relationship with food.