National Eating Disorders Association

Writing Can't Help My Recovery (Or Can It?)

Carolyn Jennings

This post by Carolyn Jennings, Journal to the Self® Certified Instructor and author of HUNGER SPEAKS a memoir told in poetry, is part of a series on the benefits of writing for recovery. Through this series, she explores the myths and challenges of journaling and offers hope and insight into her personal experiences with healing from her eating disorder.

A practice of expressive writing is a common recommendation for those seeking recovery from an eating disorder.  This may seem as intimidating as following a food plan or as bland as steamed veggies.  But the Topics du Jour technique is a zippy and quick way to invite insights that can feed your recovery.

Topics du Jour, from Journal to the Self: Twenty-Two Paths to Personal Growth by Kathleen Adams, suggests that you list thirty topics you want to stay on top of.  On the first day of each month, topic #1 would be addressed on the page or screen for 5-15 minutes.  On the second day of each month, topic #2 would be the focus of the write, and so on.

I use Topics du Jour more casually and it’s a favorite quick way for me to keep my recovery on track. I listed areas that I relate to my recovery and that I wanted to check on regularly.  My list totals 17 and includes the categories physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, food and drink, anxiety, relationships, isolation and intimacy, sexuality, cooking, self-expression and play.  I keep a separate small journal just for Topics du Jour.  I carry it with me and write when I have a few spare minutes.

I love being able to track each of these topics easily over time to see what's developing, changing, staying stuck, needing attention or deserving praise.  Just a few written words transport me right back to where I was emotionally or in relationships six months or a year ago, otherwise too easily forgotten in the busyness of each day.  Over time, Topics du Jour reveal growth and change, good habits of health and self-care or slips back toward disease and despair.  I am more aware of wholeness and fullness.  Important areas don't go neglected and forgotten.

Take 5 -10 minutes to develop a list and 5-15 minutes to write.

Jot down a list of topics you'd like to track in your life or your recovery.  Decide whether you'd prefer to write daily or less regularly.  If daily, aim to list 30 topics as Adams suggests.  If not, let the length of the list arise naturally as I did but definitely less than 30.  Set up a computer file or select a small notebook.  Play with Topics du Jour just 5-15 minutes at a time.  You can set a timer.  Try it for a few months.  Occasionally read everything you've written on a specific topic and take note of progress or stuck points that can be brought to your therapist or recovery support team.  See if you find this technique helpful and easy for you. 

Marya Hornbacher, author of WASTED A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia, says that 

  1. We can say on the page what we can't yet say aloud.
  2. In expressing it in writing, we are no longer holding it in.
  3. Expressing changes the internal talk and gives us more room away from our inner wounds.


Remember that the disease wants us to forget, to not see, to stay silenced.  Staying in touch with ourselves is vital in recovery and is a gift of journal writing.