How to Spot an Eating Disorder: The Psychology of a Food Diary

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How to Spot an Eating Disorder The Psychology of a Food Diary

Eating disorders are sneaky. Not only are they prevalent and super dangerous, but they are also challenging to diagnose. Timely recognizing the signs and symptoms allows for preventing eating disorders from developing and having an irreversible effect on physical and mental health.

In this article, you’ll learn how a food diary helps spot the problem and how a menu template can help prevent eating disorders.

Why Eating Disorders Appear

First and foremost, let’s decide on what we call an eating disorder.

Eating disorders are mental conditions that cause abnormal eating habits and behaviors, negatively affecting physical or psychological health.

Despite the word “eating” in the title, these disorders aren’t about unhealthy food consumption. They are serious and often undiagnosed problems, critical to prevent or notice on time. According to statistics, about 9% of all people develop eating disorders during a lifetime.

What can be a cause of such problems?

Eating disorders are different: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, ARFID (avoidant restrictive food intake disorder), binge-eating disorder, etc. All have many symptoms and causes of appearing. The reasons aren’t that simple to spot by an average person because they’re often a complex interaction of numerous factors: genetic, biological, psychological, behavioral, and social.

Thus, behavioral factors may include refusal to eat certain products. Or a person starts skipping meals, practicing diets frequently, or experiencing extreme mood swings.

Biological factors may be sleep or dental problems, stomach cramps, feeling cold all the time, or inaccurate functioning of the immune system.

Warning Signs and Symptoms

The signs are too many, so let’s focus on the most common and often spotted ones.

That’s how you can notice an eating disorder, whether in others or yourself. Pay attention to the following details:

  • The fear of gaining or losing weight. A person becomes obsessed with dieting and calculating calories.
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Only eating particular (“safe”) food; drinking too much water and non-caloric beverages.
  • Too much mints, gums, or mouthwash
  • Using diuretics or laxatives
  • Low self-esteem
  • A feeling of guilt or self-disgust after overeating
  • Lack of appetite or, vice versa, binge eating
  • Hiding food, late-night food consumption
  • Vomiting after meals
  • Hiding weight loss behind oversized clothes
  • Denying any eating disorders and behaviors

The faster you recognize a disorder, the better your chances for timely recovery. The hardest part is admitting the problem and not denying the help with treatment.

How a Food Diary Can Help You Spot or Prevent Disorders

What does a food diary have to do with all the above? It helps you understand eating habits, realize what products you consume, and manage your diet accordingly. With a food diary, you’ll see if there’s something wrong with your menu and notice any disturbing abnormalities that may be signals of evolving eating disorders.

What is a food diary?

A food diary is daily journaling of what you eat and drink. It’s an instrument that helps you (or your doctor) understand what you consume and if there’s something to improve.

It’s not about calorie counting. Food diaries help recognize your eating habits and behaviors influencing your overall mood and health. In a diary, you write down what, when, and with whom you eat/drink. It’s also about tracking how it makes you feel.

Feel free to use a standard textbook to keep a food diary. Also, many corresponding apps, templates, and online tools are available. Choose an instrument that’s more comfortable for you.

The benefits of keeping a food diary

First, a food diary gives you an accurate picture of your eating behavior. You’ll see what you eat and drink daily to analyze if your body gets all the elements necessary for health and well-being.

Second, it’s your assistant to recognize your eating patterns. You’ll see how much “not that good and healthy” food you consume and what prevents you from a desired weight loss, for example. It’s the way to gain control over your diet and understand how eating habits influence your lifestyle.

Third, you’ll see why, when, and how much you eat. It’s the way to identify habits that cause problems and that you’d want to change.

Keeping and analyzing your food diary can help discover the links between psychological conditions and eating. You may notice that you eat much when bored, sad, or stressed. Or, it may appear that you drink alcohol daily “just for a good mood,” which, as you can imagine, is hard to call a healthy lifestyle.

Long story short:

Food diaries are great tools for spotting eating patterns, problems, and possible disorders.

What to include in your food diary

  1. What: Write down the type of food and drink you consume. Be specific and mention all extras: dressings, sauces, toppings, etc. Butter and sugar, coffee and teas – mark everything.
  2. How much: Mention the volume, weight, or number of food items you eat. For example, five apples, 1/2 cup of green tea, etc.
  3. When and where: Track the time of day and the place where you eat. Is it at home? Where exactly: in bed, kitchen, on a sofa? If outside, did you eat in a restaurant, in a park, or in your car?
  4. With whom: Write “alone” or mention friends or family members. 
  5. How you feel when eating or drinking: Were you sad, happy, or bored? (It will help analyze how your mood impacts what and when you eat.)

For a successful food diary, please do your best to hold it with you and write down the dishes or beverages as soon as you consume them. Otherwise, the results will be less accurate. Be as specific as possible: Mention the food’s type, size, cooking method (fried, baked, etc.), and supplements (oils, sauces, toppings, condiments).

Start Your Food Diary Today!

Incorporate a diary writing habit into your routine to analyze your eating behavior and prevent any possible eating disorders on time. It’s a great tool to improve your eating patterns and become an ambassador of healthy nutrition.

Learn more about the Eating Enlightenment App.

About the Author

Jared Levenson is a former binge eating wrestler turned Zen Buddhist Monk, Internal Family Systems counselor and nutrition wellness coach. He's helped hundreds of people through universal meal principles and internal family systems to make peace with food, stop binge eating, and find true health and wholeness.


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