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Why Journaling is an Essential Part of Eating Disorder Treatment

Keeping a journal is an age-old practice often seen as a critical part of eating disorder treatment. It provides a way to examine your feelings as they happen. Just putting those thoughts down on paper can help you understand them and see how they impact things in your life like eating habits, relationships and meeting your personal goals. What is journaling and why does it matter during eating disorder counseling?

What Is Journaling?

The word journal is taken from Old French and means daily, but journaling is an ancient practice that goes back to the 10th century. There are many types of journals, too. Financial journals, for example, typically are called daybooks. Logbooks are another type of journal.

Journals that are effective in eating disorder treatments near me and other parts of the country are more like diaries. They contain discrete and often personal posts about:

  • Feelings
  • Life events
  • Thoughts
  • Inspirations

Essentially, anything that comes into your head and is worth reflecting on during the day. Journals play a role in overall health, too.

Historically, journals have been kept by visionaries such as Albert Einstein, Madame Curie, Mark Twain, Charles Darwin, Thomas Edison, and Leonardo da Vinci. There is also the very famous journal kept by Holocaust victim Ann Frank. They all saw the need for keeping a journal to put their thoughts down.

The Health Benefits of Journaling

There is some evidence that keeping a regular journal improves brain activity. The premise is that writing utilizes the left side of the brain, keeping it occupied. With the left side busy, the right side as the time to feel things, be creative and become more intuit. That activity can do amazing things like removing memory blocks along with providing a better understanding of yourself and the world around you.

Overall, journaling offers some distinct mental and physical benefits such as:

  • Providing clarity to your thoughts and how you feel
  • You get more clarity about yourself, too, so you know more about you
  • Stress reduction
  • Problem-solving
  • Resolves misunderstandings with others
  • Chronic illness management and relief

Writing in a journal isn’t just about exploring your feeling, though. It also helps to track behavioral patterns and allows you to make personal improvements.

Why Journaling Matters in Eating Disorder Treatment

Eating disorder psychiatrist care creates a path to discovery. It takes you down a road to find a recovered you and your healthy self. That kind of tending of the soul is a powerful experience, so keeping a journal during it makes sense.

Journals are about discovery and self-love. They provide a chance to empty the mind, so it can focus on personal goals. They allow you to create milestones that help mark your success, too. Ultimately, it gives you a best friend that you can tell anything to and that includes the things that crowd your mind and distort your thinking.  It’s not surprising that journaling is a therapeutic endeavor often used by eating disorder treatment near me.

Journaling is a therapeutic tool effective in residential care, outpatient counseling and as part of a self-love routine for after treatment. It helps to strengthen the mind-body connection that is so critical in eating disorder counseling.

How to Start Journaling

The answer is simple. Just do it. As with anything, the hardest part of getting starting is getting started. The nice part of keeping a journal is there are no rules – only that you make regular posts to get the most benefit.

You can use each page of your journal in a way that works for you:

  • Doodle
  • Write a poem
  • Write a story
  • Write to someone i.e.. Dear Albert Einstein, Dear JLo or your eating disorder self. They won’t see it, of course, but that’s not the point. Sometimes writing a letter to someone else puts things into perspective and creates motivation.
  • Put your thoughts into single words: happy, uneasy, preoccupied

Find a way that helps you put posts in the journal consistently.

Journaling Methods

Once upon a time, all journals were always handwritten. Today’s high-tech world creates new possibilities, though.

If you prefer a digital mode for your journal, you can write a blog that you can share or keep to yourself. There is an app for everything including keeping journals, as well. The important thing is to use a method that you are comfortable with and that encourages you to keep up the posts whether that means going online or to your desk drawer to pull out a notebook.

If you do go old-school and keep a manual journal, consider where you might want to store it. For ultimate privacy, a lockbox works well. If you are not worried about anyone else seeing it, then the desk drawer method is fine.

What Topics to Cover in Your Journal

Once you get started, the next challenge is to figure out what topics to cover. Chances are your counselor will have some ideas for you to consider. Some common topics for those with an eating disorder might include:

Say goodbye to your eating disorder. Write something like a Dear John letter to it. This will help you to mentally commit to recovery. In the letter include all the reasons you want to heal and create a plan to get you there like attending a day treatment outpatient program for support.

Post a list of pros and cons for your eating disorder.  Go heavy on the cons, of course. Part of entering eating disorder treatment is understanding why it is important. Discuss what the eating disorder has taken from your life, for example.

Dispel negativity by correcting your thoughts about food, self-worth, and weight. People with eating disorders tend to distort their views on these topics. Use the journal to write down the truths like your weight does not define you or determine your self-worth. If your post contains a negative thought, put a truth right next to it as a reminder that your view is distorted.

Journal about slips you may have made. Relapses are a normal part of healing, but it’s important to acknowledge them, so they don’t haunt you. Your journal is the perfect place to set the slip aside and move on from it. Consider also how you handled the slip. What positive steps did you take when it happened? Did you call a friend or sponsor? Did you talk to your therapist? Showing that you handled the problem with ease will reinforce your belief in your healthy self.

Write about how life has changed for your recovered self. The best way to stay on the goals track is to remind yourself of the benefits.

Tips for Managing the Journal Successfully

One of the essential parts of maintaining a journal is consistency. You need to create an environment that makes that more likely. For instance:

  • Create a set time for journaling. Pick a time when you won’t be interrupted.
  • Choose a comfortable place to write. It doesn’t have to be the same place every time. Maybe some days you would prefer to write in your room or office and others you might want to go to the park or library. Do whatever works for you.
  • Date all entries. Chances are you will refer to these posts at some point, so date them as a reference.
  • Don’t judge yourself. This is not about being the perfect writer. Grammar, spelling, punctuation, complete sentences, none of that matters. In fact, if you do nothing more than draw a smiley face or two thumbs up image, that’s perfect. Accept each post as your own creation without judgment or criticism.
  • Don’t mistake your journal for a novel. If you want to write out long stories that’s fine but it’s not really the point of journaling. This is about putting down in words or symbols how you feel at that moment.
  • Before you start to journal, sit for a minute with your eyes closed. It will allow you to find your center and organize your thoughts.

Keep in mind that journaling is part of eating disorder therapy and rediscovery. It serves a genuine purpose. Just knowing that will help keep you motivated.

Journaling Writer’s Block

It is bound to happen once or twice. The key is to not let it cause you stress. There is no rule that says you have to write every day. It’s a beneficial practice but only if it helps you.

An effective way to break that block is with journal prompts. These are thoughts that come from someone else that triggers your response. For eating disorders, a journal prompt might be something like this:

  • What does recovery look like from your eyes?
  • What is your hope for your recovered self?
  • What aspects of the recovery journey felt the most helpful? What didn’t you enjoy much and why?
  • Is there someone on your support team that accepts who you are?
  • Is there anyone in your support team that feels negative?
  • Do you sense any holes in your recovered path?
  • What do you consider a necessary boundary and why?
  • What do you do when that negative voice pops up? How can you work to change that dialogue into positive solutions?
  • What is missing from your self-care routine? What works the best and that requires the most effort? Why is it so hard?
  • What is the last thing you over apologized for and why? Do you find you apologizing often or to the same person regularly? Are the apologies warranted or a reflex from insecurity? Why does that happen?

You can also write your own prompts, maybe on the last page of your journal. That way when you are stuck, you have a go-to list of topics. Another possibility is to write down positive quotes that have meaning for you and then discuss why.

Try putting your pencil to the paper and just drawing something. Don’t overthink it. Just let your mind wander and your pen move.

More than anything else, don’t criticize yourself for not knowing what to write. You’ll have good days and some that means journaling takes more work. The point is you’re are doing it for yourself and no one else.

Sharing Your Journal

The decision to share your journal is a very personal one. You could benefit from sharing it with recovered staff, although, that choice is yours to make. In some instances, sharing your journal with others can be cathartic. It is also possible others can learn more about eating disorders and treatment options from you if you do choose to share.

In some cases, your journal might be a blog you keep for the public to see. It is a way to share your journey, connect with others for support and reach out to someone that can benefit from your support.

What If You Don’t Like Journaling?

Journaling is not for everyone, but it can be an important tool for finding the truth in yourself without judgment. As with most things, keeping a journal takes time to master. The more you do it, the more you’ll see that effort pay off for you.

If you find it is difficult, try switching things up to see if that helps. If you are writing out your journal, switch to using an app or creating a blog. If you write in the morning, move your time to the evening hours or just before bed.

Make journaling part of a daily routine, too. For example, maybe take your shower and sit down to journal while your hair dries. If writing words to too hard, post a meaningful inspirational quote each day. If that’s all you do for the first six months, it is still something worth doing.

The right way to journal is whatever works for you. Over time, you might find journaling is the best part of your day and the most helpful tool in your toolbox.






Melissa Orshan Spann, PhD, LMHC, RTY 200, is Chief Clinical Officer at Monte Nido & Affiliates, overseeing the clinical operations and programming for over 50 programs across the U.S. Dr. Spann is a Certified Eating Disorder Specialist and clinical supervisor as well as an accomplished presenter and passionate clinician who has spent her career working in the eating disorder field in higher levels of care. She is a member of the Academy for Eating Disorders and the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals where she serves on the national certification committee, supervision faculty, and is on the board of her local chapter. She received her doctoral degree from Drexel University, master’s degree from the University of Miami, and bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida.