If you eat when you’re angry, anxious or depressed but not necessarily hungry, you may be turning to food to suppress your emotions- this is considered emotional eating. A mental health professional can help you identify the emotional triggers that drive you to overeat and address the reasons for your depression or negative feelings. As a mental health professional, I often recommend journaling to my patients and consider this a wonderful tool to incorporate as a daily practice for anyone who wants to weaken the cycle of emotional eating.
How exactly does journaling help? Here are a few ways:
- Creates space and time between urge and action- redirecting emotional intensity by involving left brain activity.
- Relieves tension- waves of emotional energy get put on paper so the head gets clear from those thoughts. Journaling helps relieves the pressure you might feel and dissipates the tension from not acting on the habit of eating.
- More easily identify what your needs are by writing and therefore you become less dominated by emotions. You become able to think more clearly.
The great thing about journaling is that there is no “right” way to do it. Here are four simple methods to consider and see which kind of journaling is beneficial for you.
- Morning Pages-This is a method taught by author, Julia Cameron. Start your morning by doing some free form writing, up to three pages. Open the journal upon waking and write about how you are feeling. Include every thought, big or small, the goal is to let it all out. Try not to stop and think about it, just keep writing. These pages are for you only so write whatever comes to your mind.
- Food and Feelings Log– Buy a small journal that fits in your purse or bag so you can always have it with you. Start in the morning and write down everything you eat and drink. Log the time you ate it and how you felt including emotions as well as physical sensations and thoughts. You can write a few words or phrase, you do not need to write full paragraphs or stories. After a week or two, review the journal to see any patterns. Ask your mental health professional, or a trusted friend/supporter to review the journal to see any patterns you may have missed. For example, do you eat well for most of the day but then overeat after 8pm? Finding the patterns can help you identify what to do to change it.
- “Hair on Fire”- As you are frantically headed for the cookies or chips, grab a pen and paper first. Tell yourself you can still eat the food you were wanting but first you will take 5 minutes to write. You can either write about what is on your mind in that moment or how you are feeling. This can help you to identify what the real issue is or help in relieving some of those feelings on paper before breaking in the potato chip bag. You may find that you feel better after writing and that your cravings have been reduced.
- Name or Math: If the thought of journaling is too hard, do a math equation. Getting the left brain involved will redirect the emotions and help to relieve any stress you are experiencing. If math is too complicated then write your name. Start by writing it twenty or thirty times.
Bottom line is that you don’t need to figure anything out, just start writing. Self control becomes enhanced when you use a journal on a regular basis. And remember there are no rules, just write.