Journalling for beginners

Inspiration and tips to get you started with a ‘food and mood’ journal

Starting a food and mood journal can be a critical initial step to eating more mindfully and trusting your body. It can help us understand how we respond to food and other lifestyle factors. We can then use our discoveries from the journalling process to optimise our habits and live happier lives.

We’re so thrilled you are reading this article on your journey to becoming a more intuitive eater, so without further ado – let’s get started!

 

What is a food and mood journal?

A food and mood journal is a tool used to document what you have eaten measured against your general mood changes and feelings throughout the day. Tracking your food habits this way may help you notice general patterns of behaviour around food, why you may be craving particular foods or perhaps notice common themes in what increases the likelihood of eating particular foods over others. It can also be a significant starting step towards achieving more balance in your food choices.

You are welcome to adapt food and mood journalling any way you want in a way that works best for you. The key is to make the process an enjoyable and freeing one to let in curiosity and awareness around food, let go of restrictions or guilt, and simply seek to acknowledge and understand the body.

 

Is a food journal the same as a food diary?

In short, no. Traditionally used food diaries, such as 24-hour recalls or food frequency questionnaires (FFQ), are used to calculate what foods and quantities we consume over a given period. Whilst they are a popular approach in the clinic, they have been shown to increase anxiety and stress around food and may lack validity. (1,2,3)

On the other hand, a food and mood journal aims to create compassion for your body by being honest and non-judgemental about your diet and lifestyle. It is simply a strategy we can use to connect with what we are eating and reflect on how foods make us feel. 

 

When may a food and mood journal not be appropriate?

Some of the following situations may not be the best in which to introduce a food and mood journal:

  • Current or past experience of an eating disorder
  • Undergoing extreme food restriction and fasting
  • Experiencing rapid weight loss
  • Purging and self-induced vomiting behaviours
  • Misuse of diuretics or laxatives
  • Partaking in extreme exercise

 If you show severe signs of disordered eating, a food and mood journal may not be advised for you as it can potentially complexify your relationship with food.

Journalling can be time-consuming, and it can lead to us scrupulously checking calories and nutritional information, thus affecting what and how much we eat. This may drive someone further into their eating disorder and could even be more triggering than helpful.

Whilst some people in the stage of recovery find them a valuable tool to improve their awareness of their body, this may not be the case for everyone, so it is essential to approach this step from a place of consciousness and care.

In this case, it is best to consult a healthcare professional who will be able to assess and advise what is best for you in your journey.

If it is not deemed suitable for you, remember there are still plenty of other excellent tools you can use to heighten bodily awareness, and food journaling may even be one you come back to in the future.

 

How long should I keep a food and mood journal for?

This is entirely up to you and whether you find it to be helpful. Journalling can be quite a task in itself, so it’s important to make it manageable and sustainable.

Start small – we recommend trying this activity consistently for a week or so and see if you notice any changes or patterns. You can always add or take away what you choose to record and streamline this with your goals and outcomes. No day is the same, and understandably, you may not always want to record every meal due to time restraints, mood changes or lifestyle. For example, journalling your meal may be the last thing on your mind when you are out for dinner with friends at the end of a long week, and that’s okay! In fact, we urge you to savour the moment!

 

What should I include in my food and mood journal?

This is the fun part! You can absolutely tailor your food and mood journal to yourself and what you would like to explore within yourself. You could opt for a more written style or a table layout and keep it as detailed or as minimal as possible. You could handwrite it in your favourite notebook, use a tablet or computer, or even voice record your answers. Some ideas for the headings or columns you could include are:

  • A brief outline of the meal or snack in front of you
  • The time of day of the meal or snack
  • Your environment – are you eating alone or with others? Outdoors or at home?
  • Your stress and mood levels
  • Have you moved, stretched or exercised today?
  • Context to the day – are you working, or is it a day off? Have you witnessed anything socially, in the news or on media that may have affected you?
  • How long has it been since you had last eaten? 
  • How you feel before eating it
  • Your ‘number’ on the hunger wheel/hunger scale before eating (click here to read more about the types of hunger and how to use a scale system)
  • How much of the meal you ate
  • Your ‘number’ on the hunger wheel after eating
  • How you feel after eating it – Satisfied or miserable? Content or peckish?
  • Any further reflections (4) 

Whilst the above are more food-specific, some further journal questions you could also ask yourself at the end of the day or week for an overview could include:

  • How do I feel today?
  • What has had a positive impact on my life recently?
  • What are three things I am grateful for today?
  • What may I need more help or support with going forward?
  • What are some things that occupy my thoughts a lot, maybe more than they should?
  • What can I do for my self-care today?
  • If a close friend was experiencing what I am currently experiencing, what advice or reassurance might I offer them? (4)

 

EHL’s top tips:

  1. Remember, no emotion or feeling is the right or wrong one to have, so it’s key to be as honest with yourself as possible. There’s no judgement from this exercise, and it is a stepping stone to eating more intuitively. 
  2. Listen to your body. Some people may find any kind of food journaling to be triggering and stress-inducing. If this sounds like something you may struggle with, there are plenty of other steps you can take. Why not start with writing a letter of gratitude to your body (you can read more about body neutrality in this post) or by making a gentle self-care schedule?
  3. When in doubt, seek advice from a registered nutrition professional, if possible, who would be happy to guide you through this process and other tools to help you on your journey. To enquire about our nutrition counselling services, please email hello@embodyhealthlondon.com.
  4. Lastly, don’t forget to take a moment to remember your worth. Acknowledge the incredible efforts you are taking right now by reading this article and being motivated to improve your relationship with food. You are doing amazingly!

 

Priya Chotai, BSc ANutr

EHL Team x 

 

References 

  1. Cade J., Thompson R., Burley V., Warm D. Development, validation and utilisation of food-frequency questionnaires—A review. Public Health Nutr. 2002;5:567–587. doi: 10.1079/PHN2001318.
  2. Briefel RR, Sempos CT, McDowell MA, Chien S, Alaimo K. Dietary methods research in the third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey: underreporting of energy intake. Am J Clin Nutr. 1997;65(4 Suppl):1203S–1209S.
  3. Hebert JR, Ebbeling CB, Matthews CE, Hurley TG, Ma Y, Druker S, et al. Systematic errors in middle-aged women’s estimates of energy intake: comparing three self-report measures to total energy expenditure from doubly labeled water. Ann Epidemiol. 2002;12(8):577–86.
  4. Thomas L. How to Just Eat It: A step-by-step guide to escaping diets and finding food freedom. London: Bluebird; 2021: 314-316.

Can you be in a larger body and also have an eating disorder?

The truth about body diversity in eating disorders

 

When you imagine someone with an eating disorder, you might visualise an emaciated young white woman. This is a common stereotype but it’s completely inaccurate! Eating disorders affect people of all ages, genders, ethnicities, and body sizes. For the purposes of this article, we’ll be focussing our myth-busting on the latter.

A disclaimer to start with: In this article, we’ll be describing different body shapes and sizes, and have endeavoured to do this as inclusively as possible. However, there are times when we use the terms “obese” and “overweight” in a biomedical context. We have kept these in quotations to acknowledge how stigmatising these labels are and to indicate that BMI categories are arbitrary. To learn more about this, check out our recent article about the reliability (or lack thereof) of BMI: We also use the term “fat” as a neutral descriptor, as many people with lived experience have expressed their preference for this terminology.

 

Do you need to be underweight to be diagnosed with an eating disorder?

“Obesity” is NOT an eating disorder and it is NOT the opposite of anorexia nervosa.

Eating disorders occur across the weight spectrum. In fact, less than 6% of people with an eating disorder are underweight.1

Unfortunately, the diagnostic criteria for anorexia nervosa (AN) has not yet caught up to 2021, with the DSM-5 (the current diagnostic manual for mental illnesses) still requiring a BMI of less than 18.5 in order to diagnose it. People who meet all of the criteria for AN but are at a higher body weight are instead diagnosed with “atypical anorexia nervosa”.

Not only is this separation of diagnoses unnecessary (and we’ll get into why later on!) but it’s a huge problem in terms of treatment. For example, in order to access NHS-funded treatment for anorexia in the UK, individuals require an “underweight” BMI.2

We’re as frustrated by this as you are, and we are advocating for the diagnostic criteria of eating disorders to be inclusive of all body sizes!

 

Do all people in larger bodies have binge eating disorder?

One of the major myths we need to dispel is the idea that the only eating disorder that a fat individual can have is binge eating disorder (BED). Branching off from that, there is even the myth that all people in larger bodies have BED. These are both simply untrue!

BED can occur at any body size. Additionally, there are many reasons why a person might be in a bigger body, which may or may not be related to their eating behaviours. Body diversity is a natural phenomenon – just as some people are naturally thin, others are naturally fat. Both are okay!

 

Why do eating disorder diagnoses need to be weight inclusive?

Eating disorder diagnoses are often missed or dismissed in larger-bodied people.

As a society, we encourage fat people to engage in the same behaviours that result in an eating disorder diagnosis in thin people. This is thanks to diet culture, which promotes that it is better to be thin and have a toxic relationship with food than it is to be fat and have a positive relationship with food.

Many people in larger bodies with eating disorders report traumatic experiences when they attempt to seek treatment. This is a result of not only the untrue stereotypes around eating disorders, but also anti-fat bias. As part of this, many struggle with feeling like they’re not “sick enough” to deserve help. This is compounded by their experiences in treatment, such as being provided low-calorie meals, being encouraged to skip dessert or even receiving praise from health professionals for their disordered behaviours.

This is despite their eating disorders being just as severe in terms of medical complications as those who present at a lower BMI.3 These complications can include amenorrhea (loss of menstruation), decreased bone density, loss of lean tissue, gastroparesis (delayed stomach emptying) and irregular heart rhythm.

All people with eating disorders, despite their body size, are in a state of starvation.

If you have an eating disorder and are in a larger body, please know that your experience is valid. There is nothing wrong with your body. You are sick enough to get help. You are worthy of treatment.

Our expert dietitians can support you on your journey to recovery. Get in touch with us at hello@embodyhealthlondon.com to chat with us about how we can help you.

 

Karli Battaglia MDiet, APD

EHL Team x

 

References

  1. Arcelus J, Mitchell A, Wales J, Nielsen S. Mortality Rates in Patients With Anorexia Nervosa and Other Eating Disorders. Archives of General Psychiatry. 2011;68(7):724.
  2. National Health Service. First Step: Information Pack for GP Referrers. Bristol: Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust; 2017.
  3. Neumark-Sztainer D. Higher Weight Status and Restrictive Eating Disorders: An Overlooked Concern. Journal of Adolescent Health. 2015;56(1):1-2.

Three reasons why you shouldn’t go on a diet

Why Embody Health London dietitians practice from a non-diet approach

When people find out that we are dietitians who don’t recommend diets, the response we get is usually confusion – but it’s true! At Embody Health London, our dietitians practice from a non-diet approach. This means that we don’t recommend dietary rules or restriction for weight loss, and instead focus on cultivating a positive relationship with food with our clients. By the end of this article, we think you’ll understand why!

What is a diet?

Firstly, let’s define what this article is about! When we talk about diets, we’re not just talking about “lose weight quick!” schemes. Instead, we’re referring to any effort to restrict, control or monitor what you eat, especially with the intention of changing your body. Of course, this excludes avoiding foods based on things like allergies, medical issues or ethical reasons.

Keep reading to hear our top three reasons for why you shouldn’t go on a diet.

 

ONE: Dieting is unsustainable

You might have noticed in the past that when you’ve been on a diet, it’s incredibly hard to maintain. You end up having “cheat days” or giving up on it all together. But did you know that it’s because your body is biologically programmed that way?

The restrict-binge cycle is a phenomenon you’re probably familiar with, even if you have never put a name to it. When you wait until you’re famished before you eat, and then find yourself shovelling down anything you can get your hands on as quickly as you can, that’s the restrict-binge cycle in action.

Research has consistently found that binge eating episodes are often triggered by restriction, especially when that restriction takes the form of missed meals.1

This is because the body is much cleverer than we give it credit for! When it recognises that it’s in a state of deprivation (whether intentional or not), it switches into survival mode. It triggers extreme hunger and obsessive thoughts about food and eating in an attempt to force you to eat. You may end up eating more than you normally would have, as your body attempts to make up for the calories missed. This is why most people who lose weight regain it all (and sometimes more) within four years.2

Over time, dieting can lead to starvation syndrome. This is a state triggered by restricted calorie intake, purging and excessive exercise, and can occur at any body weight.

The most well-known study of starvation syndrome took place in the 1940s, and is now known as the Minnesota Starvation Study.3 Thirty-six physically and psychologically healthy men were selected for the study, and for three months, they ate normally and their behaviours were studied in detail. Next, their food was restricted to around half of their former intake for a period of six months. Interestingly, this “starvation diet” was higher in calories than many of the weight loss diets we see promoted on social media!

The results of the study were eye-opening, with the previously healthy men quickly experiencing the drastic effects of starvation.

Physically, the men experienced increased hunger, reduced strength, tiredness, dizziness, decreased heart rate and respiration, and their metabolisms reduced by up to 40%. Psychologically, they had increased depression and anxiety, mood swings, emotional distress and were highly irritable.

They also had drastic changes in their eating attitudes and behaviours. The participants reported feeling obsessed with food, talking, reading and daydreaming about food constantly. They began binge eating and smuggling or hoarding food, and experienced significantly worsened body image.

In the period following the starvation period, these symptoms gradually reversed. It took around eight months of refeeding for most participants to return to normal eating habits.

The body doesn’t know the difference between a diet and starvation – it responds in the same way whether the restriction is intentional or not!

Starvation syndrome often goes unchecked because its symptoms are considered “normal” in our diet-driven world. We are taught that we need to diet because we are out of control around food – however, it is the dieting itself causing this phenomenon! When you stop restricting and begin to allow yourself freedom around food, the symptoms of dieting (aka starvation) will begin to ease.

 

TWO: Dieting is not necessary to improve health

Following weight loss, the next most common reasoning we hear for going on a diet is in the name of health.

We can totally respect this! It’s a beautiful thing to want to take better care of yourself. But here’s the catch – dieting is not the way to do that. In fact, it’s more likely to worsen your health than improve it.

While we have all been taught that “obesity” increases our risk of poor health, evidence is emerging that this is actually caused by weight cycling – the recurrent losing and gaining of weight as a result of dieting, which we now know is unsustainable.

For example, a study that took place across 16 years found that weight cycling was associated with a significantly higher risk of death.4 A different study of more than 10,500 men found that the greater their weight variability, the greater their risk for cardiovascular disease.5 Yet another study of almost 34,000 women found weight cycling was associated with a significantly increased risk of heart attack and stroke.6

In other words, maintaining your weight, even if it’s higher than your ideal, is safer and healthier than dieting.

 

THREE: Dieting increases the risk of developing an eating disorder

While dieting cannot be said to cause eating disorders (they’re a much more complex condition than that), it is often a precursor. In fact, research has found that between 20% to 25% of dieters develop an eating disorder.7

This appears to be especially risky in children and adolescents, with one study finding teenagers who diet at a moderate level are five times more likely to develop an eating disorder than those who don’t.8

Despite dieting being considered a “normal” part of life in our society, it’s not necessary and it’s certainly not safe!

 

So if not dieting, then what?

If you’re wanting to take better care of your body and your health, there are an abundance of more effective strategies than dieting. 

Instead, try focussing on things like:

  • Adding more fruits and vegetables into your diet
  • Finding a type of movement you love
  • Cutting back on alcohol and cigarettes
  • Improving your sleep quality
  • Optimising your hydration levels
  • Prioritising your mental health
  • Connecting with friends and family

If you wish to live a life free from dieting but aren’t sure where to start, book a free enquiry call with one of our expert dietitians to learn about how we can support you on this journey.

 

Karli Battaglia MDiet, APD

EHL Team x

 

References

  1. Elran-Barak R, Sztainer M, Goldschmidt A, Crow S, Peterson C, Hill L et al. Dietary Restriction Behaviors and Binge Eating in Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa and Binge Eating Disorder: Trans-diagnostic Examination of the Restraint Model. Eating Behaviors. 2015;18:192-196.
  2. Nordmo M, Danielsen Y, Nordmo M. The challenge of keeping it off, a descriptive systematic review of high‐quality, follow‐up studies of obesity treatments. Obesity Reviews. 2019;21(1).
  3. Keys A, Brozek J, Henschel A, Mickelsen O, Taylor H. The Biology of Human Starvation. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press; 1950.
  4. Oh T, Moon J, Choi S, Lim S, Park K, Cho N et al. Body-Weight Fluctuation and Incident Diabetes Mellitus, Cardiovascular Disease, and Mortality: A 16-Year Prospective Cohort Study. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. 2018;104(3):639-646.
  5. Strohacker K, Carpenter K, McFarlin B. Consequences of Weight Cycling: An Increase in Disease Risk?. Int J Exerc Sci. 2009;2(3):191-201.
  6. French S, Folsom A, Jeffery R, Zheng W, Mink P, Baxter J. Weight variability and incident disease in older women: the Iowa Women’s Health Study. International Journal of Obesity. 1997;21(3):217-223.
  7. Shisslak C, Crago M, Estes L. The spectrum of eating disturbances. International Journal of Eating Disorders. 1995;18(3):209-219.
  8. Spear B. Does Dieting Increase the Risk for Obesity and Eating Disorders?. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2006;106(4):523-525.

Six reasons why calorie counting does not serve you

Why you need to stop calorie counting and get your life back

 

Nutritional information, including calorific quantities, are indicated on almost all of the packaged food we buy in a supermarket or store. Because of this, many of us have experienced calorie counting and tracking at some point in our lives.

Research shows that two-thirds of women in the UK know how many calories they eat in a single day, and so it may play a significant factor in food behaviours. (1) We know that dietary restrictions and rules can contribute to binge eating (2) with studies showing a strong link between perfectionist behaviours and eating disorder pathology. (3)

With the current debate around whether restaurants should introduce calorific content on their menus or not, we thought we would provide our thoughts on why using calories as a measure of diet quality may not be the best idea on a journey towards intuitive eating and body empowerment.

 

ONE: You do not need to “earn” food

Calorie counting can contribute to creating rewarding and restricting behaviours around food and exercise. This can lead to a more challenging relationship with food as we may label certain foods as good and bad or healthy and unhealthy according to their calorie content. (4)

Have you ever ordered a portion of “dirty fries” and felt guilty afterwards? The language we use around food plays a significant impact in how we perceive foods. (4) Remind yourself that food is a fundamental human right, and a number should not dictate otherwise.

See foods from a neutral perspective and incorporate the foods you enjoy into your diet. Think of the energy they give your body, allowing you to move, speak, learn, and interact with the world around you.

 

TWO: Our calorie intakes and needs may vary from day to day.

Have you attended a wedding, birthday, or even Christmas and felt like you wanted to try everything? Similarly, have you felt poorly, weak and not up for eating? Or prepared for an important exam and noticed your appetite going through the roof?

Our bodies are constantly experiencing different stimuli, which continuously impact our hunger and fullness cues. It is entirely normal to have a higher or lower appetite, like how we may have a busier and quieter or good or bad day.

Food has a substantial emotional value, and in periods of grief and difficulty, it is perfectly normal to want to use food as a crutch to help us through difficult times. Calorie counting may put unnecessary stress and blame on ourselves during this time, which can exacerbate an already challenging situation.

Instead, allow yourself to enjoy foods that feel good in your unique self and appreciate the comfort and satisfaction they may bring.

 

THREE: Food provides nutritional AND emotional nourishment

Maybe you were about to add a side of protein or fat to your dish, but after looking at the calorific content, decided not to? A carbohydrate focused meal can be delicious and nourishing, but may not be as satiating as a meal with a balance of protein and fats included, too.

Remember that all foods contain some nutrition, and putting them on pedestals by calorie or nutrition content can create more guilt and anxiety around eating. Some foods are more nutrient-dense than others, but this doesn’t mean it serves no purpose in our diet.

For example – kale may be seen as a nutrient-dense, low-calorie, leafy green – packed with iron, folate and vitamin K. When we compare it to a cookie – initially, we may think a cookie has zero nutritional value.

However, cookies provide energy and flour fortified with B vitamins, folate, calcium, and iron. Furthermore, looking at calories only undermines the tremendous role food plays in emotional nourishment. (4)

Ensuring that a range of food groups are included on your plate(s) can make meals and snacks more satisfying as well as nutritious, keeping you fuller for longer.

Remember – focus on the nutrients, not numbers!

 

FOUR: Actual calorie amounts and requirements vary anyway

Did you know that the calories in your food vary by a huge number of factors, including (and not limited to):

  • Location grown
  • Soil quality
  • Agricultural methods
  • Climate
  • Species/variety of the food
  • Visual differences
  • Packaging
  • Processing
  • Preparation
  • The way we eat the food
  • Our gut microbiome

All of the above means that it can be nearly impossible to calculate the specific calorie content of foods and how much energy we individually obtain from them. (5) Standard calorific estimates are based on complex calculations taken many years ago, which are still used today, and may have some variation given the environmental and societal changes since.

Furthermore, many countries use general guidelines for our calorie needs – often one number for adult women, men, and children. This puts a population of millions into a limited number of categories when in fact, we are all unique. In addition, our individual needs, genetics, socioeconomics and habits probably create a disparity that is often overlooked.

 

FIVE: It’s not sustainable.

Many of us know what it’s like to log into MyFitnessPal or similar apps after a meal and log everything we’ve eaten. It can be time-consuming and increase time spent thinking about food.

Research on MyFitnessPal shows that it tends to underestimate ingestion in nutrients due to database discrepancies for certain nutrients. (6,7) There is also a high correlation between usage of the app and high levels of eating disorder pathology and symptomatology. (8) In one study, 73% of app users believed the app to contribute to their eating disorder. (9) You can read more about the research on fitness trackers here.

Tracking our calories at the end of every meal or day can also be tiring when meals should be satisfying and stress-free. Tracking your calories adds another step to this process, affecting your enjoyment of the meal, and you deserve to be free from this added pressure.

SIX: You are so much more than a number.

You are doing incredible work on yourself every day, and none of that should be overridden by a few numbers. Remember, you are not what you eat, and this should not and does not define you. Stay fierce and fabulous!

Priya Chotai, BSc ANutr
EHL Team x

The Science of BMI – Is it reliable?

For decades, BMI has been used by health professionals and researchers to indicate the health and future health risks of individuals. However, in recent years, the criticisms for this practice have grown as the usefulness of BMI is called into question.

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