Stop Emotional Eating with a Food Journal

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Food Journals Can Help Stop Emotional Eating

Emotional eating is a problem for many people who are trying to lose weight or simply maintain a healthy diet. A food journal can help individuals stop emotional eating. Read on to learn how.

Understanding Why People Eat for Comfort

There’s a reason why certain foods (usually those high in fat, sugar, salt, or a combination of the three) are called “comfort foods.” Recent science has revealed the biological basis for comfort eating. Foods high in fat, sugar and salt cause the nucleus accumbens (the brain’s “pleasure center”) to light up. They also cause the release of opioid endorphins, the same chemicals produced when a person takes morphine or heroin (Kessler, 2009).

Human preference for “comfort food” developed during a time when abundant food was the exception, rather than the rule. Eating as much fat and sugar as possible during the rare occasions when it is available makes good sense for a society living at the edge of starvation. It doesn’t make as much sense now (Collins, 2010).

Humans probably like salt because it helps maintain electrolyte levels for societies whose members spend most of their time doing physically hard work. However, just because our “cave-man” brains are wired to like certain foods doesn’t mean we’re helpless. Human are adaptable creatures and able to learn new ways of doing things.

Using a Food Journal to Identify the Emotions that Provoke Overeating

Using a food journal to stop overeating is one method used to understand (and replace) the “payoff” provided by “comfort foods.” Humans usually engage in problem behaviors because they provide some emotional benefit. The basic strategy is to record not only foods, but how you feel right before eating them.

The easiest way to create this type of food journal is to make your own. Find a notebook, and on the top of each page, write “Date________________________”. Then draw a line down the center of the page. This gives you two columns. Label the left-hand column “food” and the right-hand column “emotions”.

Food/Emotion journals are most effective when you record an entire “cycle” of activities (for example, a full week). This time is an “evaluation period.” It also helps to resist the temptation to change your eating habits. The point, after all, is to see how emotions influence “normal” eating patterns.

Once the evaluation period is over, you can use your food journal to spot trends. Some of the most common emotions people deal with by eating are boredom, anger, and stress. For example, if you found yourself drawn to the candy machine at about 10am every morning, you might notice the vending-machine run corresponds with a lull in office activity, and you’re eating out of boredom.

Being Patient With Yourself

Using a food journal can help stop emotional eating, but it is no “magic bullet.” Habits are not easy to break, and the longer you’ve been “eating your emotions”, the longer it will take to develop healthier habits.

Also, not every strategy works for every person. While one person might find a crossword puzzle an effective alternate activity to deal with boredom eating, you might need to take a walk or read an interesting book. If the first strategy adopted doesn’t work, there’s no shame in trying something else.


Collins, A. (2010). Guide To Body Fat (Adipose Tissue). Retrieved 21 June, 2010 from

Kessler, D. (MD). (2009). The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite. New York, NY: Roadale.