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Writing to Unpack Emotions: How Keeping a Journal Can Help You with Eating Disorder Recovery


Writing and keeping a journal can be a wonderful tool for eating disorder recovery.

Keeping track of what you eat and how you feel on a regular basis can help you deal with your struggles and frustrations.

The Benefits of Journaling

Writing down what you eat, as well as the emotions you experience after a binge or purge, can help you pinpoint emotions that are causing your symptoms. In order to have a healthy relationship with food, you need to be mindful of how food tastes, learn to enjoy it, and pay attention to the feelings of being hungry and full. Individuals who struggle with eating disorders have to relearn hunger cues, and journaling can help you through this process.

You can start journaling by writing down what you eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Additionally, you need to include how you feel before, during and after a meal. By writing down this information, you will slowly start to become accountable for how much you’re eating. Some of the other benefits of writing down what you eat include:

  1. Journaling will let you know if you’re getting the proper nutrition you need.
  2. If you are working with a dietitian and/or a therapist, journaling will provide these professionals with important insights about how your emotions are affecting your eating habits.

What to Write About

When you write, make sure to keep track of the number of servings of food you’re getting during the day. This will help you ensure that you’re eating enough. Work with a dietitian to figure out how many portions of each of the different food groups you need to eat daily to stay healthy. There is no specific standard, and it will vary based on your particular weight and caloric needs.

Remember to record your triggers. Nutritionists working with individuals who struggle with eating disorders ask patients to record their feelings before, during and after a meal so that they can recognize which feelings or situations trigger eating disordered habits. When you are going through a particularly difficult situation, journaling can help you slow down your thoughts and think about what you’re doing before you restrict, binge or purge.

Learning to Use Your Journal as a Helpful Tool

You can write in your journal during any time of stress, whenever you start to slip into your old habits or have a big life change. Remember that keeping a journal is a way to stay on track with recovery and that you should not feel as though the journal only adds stress to your life. Do not feel as though you can't eat more than what your nutritionist says you need. Keeping a food journal is meant to ensure that you get the minimum number of calories that your body needs, but it’s also very healthy to be flexible.

In order to make your journal an even more powerful recovery tool, you can use a technique called "unpacking." When you see a vague word such as "fine" appear in your writing, list all of the possible meanings it could have and all of the possible experiences or feelings it covers up. This list does not have to be specific to what you are feeling or believe you may be covering up; you are working on the word itself. Through unpacking, you may find some unexpected keys to your eating disorder recovery as you look at your writing in a different way.