Journaling for Weight Loss


I know people who are brave enough to take on a strict diet, restrict their calories, or eliminate big food groups when they want to lose weight. Yet they resist journaling for weight loss. That seems too easy. And how can it help?

This is a picture of a cute brown puppy who seems very puzzled by this question.

You might be as surprised as this puppy.

Journaling Definition

Most research about journaling involves “expressive writing”. That means recording your thoughts and feelings about your life, including past trauma and hard times. In my journaling practice I allow thoughts to flow freely, I write down whatever comes to mind. It’s best not to get bogged down recording events, as perhaps you did if you had a diary in elementary school. “Dear Diary, I went to school. I came home. I had a snack. I played with the dog.”

Although there are many apps or digital services available for journaling, I like to write by hand in a good-quality notebook. Writing by hand helps connect to thoughts and emotions, and assists brain processing.

Journaling for Mental Health

According to research, the mental health benefits of expressive writing seem to be as effective as more involved, time-consuming, and expensive treatments.

That means medication, therapy, or support groups. What a great benefit! Do seek medical and psychological help, but also consider adding journaling to your health practices.

However, studies in 2002 and 1996 found expressive writing was detrimental for adult survivors of childhood abuse, and some veterans with PTSD. If that describes you, please see a mental health professional before starting to journal.

Journaling for Weight Loss

An oft-cited study found that people who kept detailed food records lost twice as much weight as those who didn’t. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2008.04.013 Recording what you eat and how you exercise gives you more awareness and commitment to planned behavior changes. Yet I believe there are other benefits of journaling for weight loss.

Quite often we don’t eat because we’re hungry. We eat to soothe ourselves after a stressful day, we eat  because we’re bored, we eat to give a reward. Food helps cope with a life we don’t enjoy. By journaling affirmations, gratitudes, and positive stories as described in the next section, you live with more positive energy, and may have less need for food for comfort. In addition, it takes mental energy to block thoughts about negative and traumatic events. This creates stress for the body. Confronting and acknowledging your reality through journaling may lower the work of thought inhibition, and reduce the stress on your body–stress that leads to overeating.

Suppressing emotions has also been linked to low vagal tone, a measure of heart function. Low vagal tone may increase sensitivity to stress and increase bodily reactions to life and environmental stress.

Journaling Topics

While hard topics may come out in journaling, don’t focus exclusively on describing bad experiences. Aim for a free flow of expression, an uncensored brain dump. If traumatic experiences come up, let them appear naturally, without being forced. New ideas and intentions will also appear, like a light bulb going off without you having to flip the switch.

This is a picture of a light bulb shedding a soft, golden light.

Screenwriter, playwright, director, and author Julia Cameron recommends journaling affirmative statements—a positive statement of positive belief. She says

When we first start working with affirmations, they may feel dumb. Hokey. Embarrassing. Isn’t this interesting? We can easily, and without embarrassment, bludgeon ourselves with negative affirmations…

In her book The Artist’s Way, Julia lists twenty creative affirmations, telling readers to pick three and write each one five times in daily “morning pages”.

The Wall Street Journal recently published an article called “How Journaling Can Help You Live Your Best Life” https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-journaling-can-help-you-live-your-best-life-11618318961  In it, life coach Lara Zielin recommends a journaling approach called “Author Your Life”.  Zielin has clients write about the life they want as if it’s already happening. You describe yourself experiencing what you want to happen! I like this idea. Several years ago I wrote about the power of rewriting the stories we tell ourselves https://deborahrankinrd.com/you-may-want-to-rewrite-the-stories-you-tell-yourself/

Journaling How To

Start with the approach to journaling that sounds best to you. Follow the guidance of your mental health professional if you suffer from PTSD or experienced childhood abuse.

  • If you review yesterday’s events, call out the good choices you made. Celebrate success!
  • If you enjoy lists, write bullet points of your objectives or priorities to sort swirling ideas, and calm your mind.

This is a picture of a man making a list in his journal.

  • In my book, De-Stress Your Life: Turn Chaos Into Calm http://bit.ly/DeStressbook I tell the story of a gratitude journal I began during a difficult time in my life. Every morning I listed five things for which I was grateful. That is an easy way to start journaling. It transformed my life.
  • If you struggle with “what do I write about?”, try journaling prompts. My friend and colleague Angie Clay offers a subscription service to daily journaling prompts. https://liberateandlather.com/pages/igniteandwrite

Journaling Quotes

If you’re still not sure about  journaling for weight loss, consider what these thought leaders say.

Starting a gratitude journal was the single most important thing I have ever done.
—Oprah Winfrey

If you’re serious about becoming a wealthy, powerful, sophisticated, healthy, influential, cultured, and unique individual, keep a journal.
—Jim Rohn

What happens to us is not as important as the meaning we assign to it. Journaling helps sort this out.
—Michael Hyatt

Keeping a journal of what’s going on in your life is a good way to help you distill what’s important and what’s not.
—Martina Navratilova

Start Journaling for Weight Loss Today

Start now, and commit to at least ten minutes a day. Regardless of the demands of your days, making time to journal will give you the most from the time you have.

To help, I’ve made an  infographic with tips on three ways to keep journaling, even when your schedule is crazy. Click here for the infographic:

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