Breaking free of unhelpful eating patterns often requires a variety of tools. One approach that may be helpful for you is self-monitoring.
What is self-monitoring?
Self-monitoring is a way to record your daily food intake, along with any thoughts, feelings, or disordered eating behaviours that may have been experienced at that time. It may seem counter-intuitive to write down disordered thoughts and you might wonder if writing them down would make you fixate on them more. Many people report thinking this way! Interestingly, however, self-monitoring has actually been shown to be very effective in supporting recovery. Particularly if it is done in the early stages, it can help people stop the vicious cycle of disordered eating.
How does self-monitoring work?
The power of self-monitoring comes from building awareness. It allows you to take notice of and understand your triggers and vulnerabilities. Often behaviours like overeating, binging, or skipping meals are connected to thoughts and feelings. In other words, these behaviours don’t just happen for no reason! With self-monitoring, you are encouraged to consciously take note of that thought or feeling and write it down.
Over time, you will identify patterns. Maybe an interaction with an angry boss preceded the binge. Or maybe a bad body image thought led to skipping a meal. Recognizing your specific triggers can help to separate the thought from the behaviour.
Another advantage of self-monitoring that clients report is that it can increase accountability, which helps them when making behaviour changes. At Eating Essence, we use an online food journaling app that allows clients to record and/or take pictures of their food in the moment. When we meet with you, we already have an idea of your eating patterns throughout the week and this allows us more time to talk about what is important to you.
Is self-monitoring for everyone?
It is understandable that writing down your food intake and thoughts can feel scary and overwhelming; we’re aware this may not work for everyone. It is a practice that takes time and effort, and this may leave less time for other areas in your life.
Some people also have had negative experiences with keeping food logs as part of weight loss programs in the past; they may have been shamed or made to feel bad if they deviated from their diet plan. For some, seeing their eating patterns on record can bring back those difficult memories and may increase food preoccupation. For others, self-monitoring may also create an uncomfortable feeling of being under surveillance.
Remember, we are not here to judge you, but rather help you identify and break free from unhelpful patterns. Self-monitoring is also not something that needs to be done forever! Over time, you will develop confidence and consistency with your eating. You can then move away from self-monitoring and focus on nurturing a stronger connection with your internal hunger and fullness cues.
How do I start self-monitoring?
Here are some tips on starting your self-monitoring journey:
1. Be Honest
It can be very difficult to record your intake and thoughts; you may be tempted to leave out certain details. Remember that there is no judgement when it comes to your recovery. Being honest and accurate is the best way to support your journey.
2. Complete in real time
Waiting till the end of the day to complete the record may lead to misremembering or leaving out really valuable information. We encourage you to record the information in real time to foster accuracy and best capture the entire picture.
3. Do it daily
It is important that self-monitoring is done daily. This is the optimal way to identify patterns that you can then begin to address.
4. Use paper or electronic app
Depending on your preference, you can use either a paper format or download an electronic application.
At the end of the day, self-monitoring can be a very useful tool, but it is still just one tool in your toolbox. If you are unsure whether it’s the right tool for you or have questions about your situation, we are here to help! We can go over the pros and cons of self-monitoring and help you make a decision that will be most supportive to your journey.