The more I learn about eating disorders, the clearer it becomes that food itself is rarely, if ever, the underlying main issue. It seems that more often than not eating patterns are somehow used to manage overwhelming emotions, and eventually habit sets in where eating becomes an equal part of the problem. And while there are varying approaches to treatment out there, I like to think that most therapists are working towards the same goal – to help our clients find balance in everyday life with the ability to address and tend to emotional experiences in a healthy way. I love that there are so many apps available these days to help normalize eating behaviors and knowing that different approaches are helpful for different people, I thought I’d go ahead and put something out there myself. No, I shamefully admit that I have yet to become superwoman enough to devise my own app (jk) but I have decided to provide readers with a handout – the Food, Mood & Awareness Tracker – that you can print out and use as needed. My hope is that it will provide a visual for you over time – so you can see what your own behavior patterns are and how your actions affect your emotional experiences and possibly other aspects of your life as well. You can find the link for the handout below. But first, here’s how you use it:
The top section of the handout is in graph form to track your mood and energy level – use a blue dot to track your mood and a red dot to track your energy level. This is subjective input with 1 being the lowest, 10 the highest and 5 is average or neutral – it really just needs to make sense to you. For the greatest awareness, I suggest that you try tracking your mood before and after each meal and before and after each symptom use. I know this may sound a bit tedious, but you may learn a lot about your tendency toward certain behaviors. For energy level, probably tracking this 1-3 times a day would be enough.
The next section is food intake – be sure to create space for each meal, even if you don’t have one. Write down everything that you consume. And be sure to make note of any snacks, big or small.
Then there is symptom use – something that varies on an individual basis (restricting, binging, purging to name a few). These behaviors may or may not coincide with meal times. Don’t forget to include exercise if your team has determined that this is a form of purging for you.
The last section is where you outline significant events that take place. It might seem like a no-brainer to recognize that getting married, losing your job or a fight with a significant other may affect your mood. But to be fair, there are so many things we do while on auto pilot, that it just makes sense to jot them down anyway. I also strongly encourage you to take note of the things you do to care for others as well as the things you do for your own self-care.
I suggest that when you start using the FMA Tracker, you dedicate a page for each day, at least at the beginning. Maybe go for a full month of pages in this way, then if you like you can start using one page for a whole week – or not – whatever makes the most sense for you. I’m no psychic, but I suspect that over time this tool will help you identify possible triggers that may keep you in the habit of looking for a quick fix, and that in the long run the things that may be most helpful are those related to self-care. One caveat here: the FMA Tracker is intended to use in conjunction with a team effort (dietitian, therapist, psychiatrist, et al) – please don’t assume you can create lasting change all on your own. Try it for six months! I know this may sound like a long time, but when you consider the tenacity of eating disorders – sometimes ten, twenty, even forty or more years, six months is really just a drop in the bucket. I wish you all the best – let me know how it goes!