If your child has an eating disorder, then it may help you to keep a log of eating disorder symptoms and treatment. This is a useful tool to support you in seeking treatment, recognizing progress, and, when necessary, making decisions to switch to new or different treatment. A mental health log can help parents keep track of their kids’ mental health and support them in making strategic decisions to support recovery.
There are many benefits to keeping a mental health log of eating disorder behaviors and treatment. The three most important reasons are so you can:
- Maintain your focus and know what’s working and what’s not working
- Share your notes with treatment providers to keep treatment on-track
- Recognize when things are getting better or worse
An eating disorder is a constantly moving target, and getting from day to day can be a major undertaking. But if you don’t have a tool to pull yourself up from the weeds and see the big picture, you can’t make strategic decisions. And impulsive decisions based on your feelings alone are often much less effective than decisions that are made in a more strategic manner. A log that tracks eating disorder symptoms and treatment will help you keep everything straight.
Why keep an eating disorder treatment log?
Managing a child’s eating disorder is a big undertaking. There is so much information and many details to keep track of. Since you have other things on your plate and you’re more likely to forget details in stressful situations, it helps to write down what is going on. Doing this will help you keep track of medications, rules, and expectations so that you aren’t wasting time trying to remember what was said or tracking down different pieces of paper, medication bottles, and other things to help jog your memory.
In times of stress, it can be dangerous to rely on memory, since facts become distorted with pressure and time. Keeping a detailed log of eating disorder symptoms and treatment means you have the information you need at your fingertips.
What is an eating disorder tracking log?
A log for eating disorder symptoms and treatment can help parents keep track of all the little and big things that take place during the various stages of having an eating disorder. Whether your child is in a very active eating disorder or in early, mid, or full recovery from an eating disorder, a log can be helpful.
An eating disorder symptom log should track the following:
- Eating: for example, what and when did you serve food, and what was eaten. You may also include how it was eaten (e.g. easily, slowly, fast, reluctantly, etc.)
- Other behaviors: for example, track whether your child is purging and, if so, how often. Same with over-exercise. You can also observe whether body image issues are becoming more or less frequent.
- Conversations you have with professionals: this should include notes from your meetings with therapists, doctors, dietitians, etc. This should include information about the treatment they recommend and suggest and why you did or did not follow it.
- Distressing events: you should take note of major events such as self-harming, anxiety attacks, and aggressive behavior. Describe what happened and approximately how long it lasted and its intensity.
- Conversations with important adults: note things that people like coaches, teachers, family members, etc. have said to you about your child’s behavior. Sometimes it’s hard for us to see what’s going on, and these comments, when written down, give us insight.
- Appointment notes: if your child is being monitored by a medical doctor you can keep track of vital signs like weight, heart rate, etc. Also, take note of any recommendations and suggestions. If you chose not to follow the doctor’s advice, state why.
- Medications recommended and/or prescribed: keep track of what was prescribed, when, why, by whom, and at what dosage. Also track when providers adjust medication or if they make a recommendation that you disagreed with. Note any positive impact of medication and possible side effects.
In addition, you should have a quick-reference sheet showing you the providers’ names and phone numbers and any medications your child is on.
How to keep a quality log
You already have a lot on your plate. A parent who has a child with an eating disorder is facing tremendous work in terms of treatment and care. You’re already doing the planning, scheduling, coordinating, budgeting, and decision-making. This is a lot of work.
So you don’t have to turn keeping a mental health log into another tedious job for yourself. But you should have a system for jotting down your notes at the end of every day. As things improve, you can reduce this to every other day, then once per week, and so on. Remember that eating disorders can be effectively treated and you probably won’t have to do this forever. But it will be a tremendous help to you if you keep track of what’s going on. Aside from anything else, a good mental health log will give you the peace of mind that you are on top of your child’s care.
What format to use
Start by thinking through the format you will use for your log.
Some people really like paper and a pen for keeping notes. If so, get yourself a dedicated notebook and a pen and put them in a place where your child will not find them. Unless you are approaching the log as a group effort, you might want to hide it so your child cannot stumble across it. For some kids, a treatment and symptom log will bring on feelings of being vulnerable, observed, and exposed.
If you prefer a digital record, then you have several options. You can set up a spreadsheet or a document, or even just use your note-taking app on your smartphone. Whatever you use, keep in mind privacy concerns, and password-protect your devices so your child doesn’t accidentally see your log if you don’t want them to.
Once you know whether you’re going paper or digital, consider a standardized format. Not everyone likes this, but many people find it helpful to have a list of what they should be logging. To help, I’ve created a document with everything you need to get started.
Getting in the habit
In the beginning, make it a habit to jot down a few notes every day. New habits are hard to start, but once you get going, they get easier. Here are some tips for starting a new habit:
- Get ready: gather the supplies you need and set up your worksheet, cheat sheet, or whatever you’re using to keep your log
- Set a goal: it’s very hard to build a habit if your goal is undefined. Commit to daily notes or, if that’s not possible, a note every time you do something like visiting the pediatrician or dietitian.
- Set up a cue: if your goal is to make a note every day, set up the specific time and location. Many people will set a reminder on their smartphones to make sure this happens. Another option is to make the cue something like when your child goes to their therapy session, after dinner, or something else that reliably happens.
- Set up a reward: it’s best if you feel successful when you complete your habit each day. This could be something simple like giving yourself a quick hand or temple massage, scrolling through your phone for 5 minutes, or getting a hug from your partner.
- Have a plan B: while you really want to stick to a regular plan to create a habit, it can be helpful to build in your plan B. This is what you will do if you don’t meet your goal. For example, can you set a second reminder on your phone? If you forget to do it after dinner, can you do it before you go to bed? Establish this in advance so it feels like a more formal and thus acceptable backup plan.
The log is not a journal for your feelings
Journaling your feelings about the eating disorder might be very helpful for you. A journal can help you process your difficult emotions and thoughts about your child’s disorder. However, this mental health log is not the same thing as a journal. I suggest you keep the two concepts separate. Remember that a good log might be helpful for you to show to your child’s treatment providers. So you want to limit your personal thoughts and feelings.
Keep the log factual, and process your feelings elsewhere. Use a reporting approach: stick to the facts! You can even use a reporter’s prompts to structure your notes:
- What happened?
- Where did it happen?
- How did it happen?
- Who was involved?
- Why did it happen?
Your child’s private health information is sacred. I already mentioned this, but carefully consider whether you plan to share your log with your kid. And, if not, make sure they have no way to accidentally stumble upon it. I really can’t overstate this. What you are doing is not wrong. However, it could be hurtful for your child to discover your log without adequate preparation. Here are a few options for thinking about how you set this up:
Keeping an open log
You may choose to make the log open and accessible to your child. This means you share with them that you are keeping the log and are willing to show it to them upon request. However, it does not mean your child is keeping the log for themselves. If their therapist suggests they journal or maintain their own notes, that’s separate from what you are doing. Even if you are providing your child with access to the log, make sure that it is your responsibility to record your observations and notes.
Keeping a private log
A more common approach is to keep a private log. In this case, you keep your log private and in a secure location that your child cannot access. You are gathering very personal information, so it is essential that you take this very seriously. There are ways in which an eating disorder symptoms log can go awry, including:
- The child with the eating disorder finds it and feels criticized, triggering a relapse or new symptoms
- Siblings find the log and make fun of the child or become worried about the child’s health
- Other people, from nosy neighbors to extended family members find the log and catastrophize the situation, possibly even accusing you of wrongdoing if they don’t understand what’s going on
This is why it cannot be overstated: if you keep a handwritten log, make sure that it is hidden securely in a place that nobody will find. If you keep your log on digital devices, make sure they are password-protected to make sure nobody can access them except for you. Don’t fall into the trap of relying on weak passwords that your children are likely to guess! Do not use anyone’s birthday, name, or classic combinations like 12345, abcdef, or the all-too-common mistake of using the word “password” as your password.🤣
Keeping a mental health log of eating disorder symptoms and treatment can really help you uncover patterns of behavior. It will also help you recall facts and information that you’ve received in the past and jog your memory about why you have made the decisions you have made. Finally, it can be very helpful when you’re talking to new treatment providers who need a history of what has taken place so far.
You can get started here
Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating issues, body shame and eating disorders.
She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate eating disorder recovery and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.