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How To Stop Overeating With A CBT Food Journal

Last updated on January 18, 2021

What if the key to stop overeating or binge eating was not another diet or white knuckle willpower, but using your mind in such a way as to bring about the hot, healing light of awareness?

In this post I’m going to reveal how to use your mind to vaporize food cravings.

I know that the term ‘vaporize your food cravings’ sounds like something out of an alien movie, where aliens blast red lasers and vaporize buildings.

But when I use the term ‘vaporize’ I’m actually referring to what naturally happens when you bring a certain type of awareness to your food cravings and overeating habits.

It will feel like your food cravings will sort of disappear on their own – like water evaporating – simply by bringing a certain type of awareness to these urges, cravings, and overeating fantasies of yours.

Now how can you achieve  this ‘certain type of awareness’ I am referring to?  I’m talking about the most popular, well-researched and arguably most effective therapeutic approach in Western Civilization – Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). 

As the name suggests, ‘Cognitive’ Behavioral Therapy deals with how the mind affects behavior.

The implication is simple:

If you can change your thoughts, you can change your behavior. In terms of overeating, what we must do is dig deep and examine our subconscious thoughts that are controlling your behavior without your conscious awareness.

As you become aware of these thoughts, they naturally start to become more truthful and less distorted. Quite naturally, the intensity and compulsion of your urges starts to dissipate. 

I’ll explain more about CBT down below, but for now all you need to know is that CBT has a very specific way of increasing awareness around your food cravings that naturally leads to your food urges dissipating. 

What is the specific tool that you use?  I’m talking about a real-time, before-you-eat Food Awareness Journal. 

I promise that if you keep a Food Awareness Journal, your food cravings will start to evaporate, vaporize, dissipate, whatever word you want to use, and you’ll gradually stop overeating.

In this post I will:

  1. Give a brief overview of CBT
  2. Provide scientific resources on CBT
  3. Explain the real-time, before-you-eat Food Awareness Journal
  4. Provide templates and examples of the Food Awareness Journal
  5. Address concerns about using a Food Awareness Journal

Are you ready? Let’s dive in!

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy For Binge Eating – A Brief Overview

Before we go into how you can use your journal and your mind to vaporize food cravings, let’s explain more about the underlying science behind this method. 

First I’ll give an overview and then I’ll provide direct links to powerful science articles.

Overview: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the most popular and researched therapy treatment approach for all many mental struggles like anxiety and depression in the United States. CBT has been extensively researched for eating disorders as well and is a cornerstone of practical medical advice.

Overall, CBT is very simple and highly effective. If you want more information on CBT here’s another blog article I wrote on the topic.

CBT is based on the idea that your subconscious thoughts lie underneath conscious awareness and control your behavior without you even realizing it.

So while it’s possible for many people who have not been treated or coached on how to overcome eating disorders to eat mindfully, eat slowly or avoid binging for a short period of time, over the long term they revert back to their subconscious beliefs and self-sabotage.

In The Eating Enlightenment philosophy which I promote on this website (and which you read FAQs about here), we start with CBT because when people try other methods first, they usually totally fall off the wagon because deep down they haven’t uprooted their negative subconscious beliefs about food. 

CBT posits that your thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations combine into behavior. Your behavior, in turn, shapes your thoughts, emotions and bodily sensation.

I call these three things — your thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations …

The ‘Three Why Components’

I’ll explain this term in more detail down below but it basically is about why you are engaging in emotional eating. For now this graphic is a good starting point:

cognitive behavioral therapy diagram

Summary: CBT is the empirical scientific therapy based on the idea that your thoughts lead to behavior. The science underlying CBT backs up the notion that journaling in real time before you eat is a highly, highly effective and simple way of dramatically reducing binge eating. 

The Science Behind Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Buddha said to be skeptical and I think you should be skeptical too.

Below are some direct links to compelling scientific articles that demonstrate tremendous proof behind CBT as a methodology to treat binge eating. 

For starters, check out this meta-analysis of meta-analysis studies on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. This paper looked at 269 meta-analyses! 

Most therapeutic approaches, even if they are highly effective, have only a few meta-analysis studies, but Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is so simple, popular and effective that there are over 269 meta-analysis studies!

One meta-analysis study usually combines around 30 normal studies. So this number of studies for CBT is insane!

Want to know the conclusion of over 269 meta-analysis studies on CBT? 

“In general, the evidence-base of CBT is very strong.” 

Silly scientists, they always speak in such boring language!

Here’s another normal meta-analysis study on CBT and binging that shows that 42% of clients succeeded in abstinence from binges after learning CBT.

42%? Now that’s a bit more exciting to me!

And good news too, this meta-analysis that saw this 42% abstinence rate was specifically about binge eating disorder, which should give you a lot of confidence in this treatment to stop overeating!

How To Use A Real-time, Before-you-eat Food Awareness Journal

There are two keys to this Food Awareness Journal:

  • You journal in the present moment 
  • You journal before you eat, not afterwards

Now what exactly are you journaling? Here is a template of the Food Awareness Journal with an example entry:

stop overeating blank journal cognitive
stop overeating journal example

How To ‘Write ‘Why’ Before You Eat’

As you can see in the far right, there is an entire column dedicated to ‘Write ‘Why’ Before You Eat’.

I’m not going to explain the other columns because they are pretty simple, you just notice your food choices, what time you eat, where you eat and if you perceive a binge.

There are two parts to this section that I teach my private clients:

  • Try to guess ‘why’ you are eating
  • Try to note the thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations which make up the ‘why’.

Remember earlier I said we’d return to the concept of the ‘Three Why Components’. It’s a big part of learning how to stop overeating!

Well, here we are!

Writing down the ‘Three Why Components’ follows the overarching principles of writing before you eat, and writing in real time. 

Please note that you don’t have to be perfectionistic about this journal exercise.

It’s ok for you to have shorter journal entries. Many people get concerned that they’ll have to spend 10 minutes doing this before they eat. But this simply isn’t the case. Perhaps a minute on average, although definitely sometimes you will want to go longer.

It is important that before you eat, you write down at least a little bit about ‘why’ you are eating. This step alone will help you to stop overeating.

Feel free to keep things short, as you don’t need to be spending too much time using your journal. But you do want to spend at least some time journaling before you eat.

For example, some thoughts you have throughout the day are probably related to weight loss or fear of weight gain.  

Normally these thoughts about your food intake or eating too much would be subconscious. But now with the journal you are becoming aware of these thoughts around your eating habits.

You’ll be able to challenge these thoughts which are usually totally disorted and out of proportion.

Sometimes people uncover that deep down they think they are the worst person on the planet. And if I’m being honest, who wouldn’t binge if they were the worst person on the planet!?

But you aren’t the worst person on the planet! And you know this. So in order to stop overeating you absolutely must catch these thoughts of yours!

The Benefit Of Using This Food Awareness Journal

The main benefit of using this food journal is increased awareness. This awareness in turn leads to food cravings naturally decreasing.

Why do food cravings decrease when you journal? There are several reasons:

  • Delay of Gratification: By following this simple rule ‘journal before you eat’, you will be practicing delay of gratification. Sometimes you’ll find that by the time you are finished writing down your food you are no longer hungry, or realize how pointless it is to have food at that time!
  • Awareness of Triggers: By writing down what you eat before you actually eat the food, you’ll be forced to bring some awareness of your triggers. For example, many times binge eaters binge at specific times or places or have certain thoughts before a binge. Therefore, this journal will help you see clearly which triggers and thoughts are impacting you and causing you to binge. As you see the written pattern, you will naturally start to avoid these situations and triggers.
  • Greater Understanding: This journal will also clearly help you see your food patterns with much, much greater understanding. By habitually writing down information about your ‘’Three Why Components’ you’ll gain incredible awareness into these underlying thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations that drive your eating behaviors. Plus, you’ll also be able to see how skipping meals, getting really hungry, restricting food and other food intake patterns end up causing negative eating habits at the end of the day.
  • Not About Weight Loss: No mention of amounts, serving sizes, or calories.

Summary: By writing down your ‘why’ before you eat you’ll be much better prepared to stop eating before you get too full.

Now that you have a better understanding of how the Food Awareness Journal works, I know you have a bunch of questions and concerns. 

In my history as a Recovery Counselor at an outpatient center for Eating Disorders, my experience as an award winning top Thumbtack health professional in 2018 and 2020 for Intuitive Eating, and my experience working with over a hundred private clients, I’ve seen many concerns come up.

In no particular order, I’ll try to address as many of these concerns as I can:

Addressing Food Awareness Journal Concerns Many People Share

Do I Need To Keep A Food Awareness Journal?

Yes. If you are serious about your quest to stop overeating, then you must.

Now eventually you won’t need the journal. But in the beginning CBT part, a daily food journal is mandatory.

This is a very important topic so please see discussion questions below where various additional concerns are addressed. 

Basically, the Food Awareness Journal AND writing in a journal with pen and paper in real-time are the two main driving forces behind the incredible CBT success rate. 

Remember, 42%!

I Have Done This Before. It Didn’t Help Then, Why Would It Help Now?

While you likely have recorded calories, that’s not what we are doing here.

The food awareness journal makes no mention of amounts or calories, and instead places emphasis on time, place and most importantly, feelings, thoughts and noting when you engage in overeating.

By noticing and writing down the conditions when you engage in overeating, in a few short weeks you’ll have a much more clarity about ‘why’ overeating happens for you. This in turn will make it much, much easier to stop overeating.

Furthermore, this is a real-time journal. This is to be done in real time! Not long after, but right before you eat, or immediately after if you happen to engage in overeating.

Won’t The Food Awareness Journal Make Me Even More Preoccupied With Eating Than I Am Already?

It is true that starting to monitor in this way increases preoccupation with thoughts about eating, but this is a constructive and illuminating preoccupation. 

Your awareness increases of the thoughts and feelings that accompany it will increase. 

It is the beginning of you becoming an expert on your eating problem and starting to understand it. And the preoccupation fades after a few weeks.

Do I Have To Carry The Records Around With Me All The Time?

Yes. This may be difficult under some circumstances but it should be possible. The day’s record can be stuffed into a pocket or wallet, for example. We have yet to encounter a situation in which recording was truly impossible.

For example, if you are in a social situation, you can use the bathroom to jot down notes.

Do I Need To Keep A Food Awareness Journal Forever?

No. Certainly not!

However, a major proficiency must be reached in order to have realistic expectations about abstinence from bingeing and to stop overeating. 

This proficiency is being able to journal, in real time before a binge, information about the ‘Three Why Components’. 

Basically, when a binge urge is growing you must have the awareness and understanding to be able to ‘catch’ yourself in the moment and be able to write down what you are thinking, what you are feeling in your body, and your overall emotional state.

In due time you’ll be able to stop journaling so much as you transition to becoming a truly free around food.

With that being said, I hope this article makes sense to you, and how you truly can use your mind to vaporize food cravings.

Any questions left? Let me know in the comments section!