JOURNALING BEFORE ENGAGING IN AN EATING DISORDER BEHAVIOR
Journaling before engaging in any eating disorder behaviors can help you gain access to your Eating Disorder Self and bring your Healthy Self forward. Your Eating Disorder Self does not want to do this assignment (or any of them) so if you are doing it this means your Healthy Self has stepped up, even though you will be writing out the thoughts and feelings of your Eating Disorder Self.
Notice we did not say to journal instead of doing the behavior, but rather before you do the behavior. If we ask clients to journal instead of acting on the behavior, many won’t try it at all because they really want to engage in the behavior and don’t want to be stopped. So, let us be clear, we know you might engage in the behavior anyway and that is okay. This is a first step, so although journaling might stop you from going through with the behavior, it’s not the primary purpose. The purpose of doing this journaling is to help you gain access or insight into the part of you that wants to do the behavior, what it needs or wants, and what it fears might happen if you don’t. We ask you to journal before because once you engage in the behaviors your feelings are masked and much harder to get to, which is why this assignment can bring valuable insights.
You will eventually be asked to write from the part of you that wants to do the behavior and the part of you that wants to get well. These exercises are called Healthy Self vs. Eating Disorder Self dialogues, and they are most helpful in interrupting behaviors.
Often in the beginning of treatment when clients try journaling, we hear statements like, I didn’t know what I was feeling or thinking so I couldn’t write anything. Try not to get discouraged from attempting to journal even if you aren’t sure what you are feeling. Instead of trying to think about how you feel and what to write, start by simply writing about what you are thinking about in that very moment. For example, if you are delaying bingeing and purging and having writer’s block, just write about that. It might look something like, I have no idea why I am even trying this. I have no idea what I am thinking or feeling except for being annoyed that I am doing this and thinking it’s a waste of time. Obviously I wish it could work and just writing that makes me realize how afraid I am to try. Journaling about what is going on inside your head at that moment is great and once you get started, you might find it easier to find the feelings and words that eluded you at the beginning.
One Client’s Example:
I want to eat what I want and I don’t want anyone stopping me. I don’t care about trying to even stop myself because I feel like if I don’t do this I’m going to come unglued. I want to eat the entire chocolate cake my mom has in the fridge and then I want to follow that with the rocky road ice cream. I might want to get rid of that food, get it out of my body, before I eat more. Ifeel bad even saying it now but I don’t want to think about that. My head is screaming at me to get started, hurry before someone comes home. After the ice cream I want a few bowls of cereal. And if I still feel like more I will because I want to eat whatever I want. This is one place where I get to do what I want. I don’t like sticking my fingers down my throat to get all the food out, but that is the price I pay for getting to eat what I want. Screw everyone trying to stop me, this will make me feel better right now.
Personal Reflection: CAROLYN
Journaling before an eating disorder behavior is critical to getting better, even if you end up going through with the behavior. You will gain access to both parts of yourself and learn things you might never realize otherwise. For instance, in the example above, the client and I discussed if there was anywhere else in her life she gets to do what she wants because that seemed like a theme. I also reminded her that she came to me saying she wanted to stop bingeing and purging and yet, in her writing, she talks about not wanting others to stop her. I reassured her that I am okay with her life choices and she is the one who needs to decide if she wants to keep bingeing and purging or not. I told her I would not judge her or tell her she can’t see me anymore if she chose to keep her eating disorder, though our goals would be different. Clients often have to be reminded that the true battle is the one inside between the part of them that wants to stop and the part that doesn’t.
Even if at first you have no idea what to write, get mixed up, or feel awkward, over time you will get better at writing whatever is going on, identifying your feelings (then or later), and keeping the Eating Disorder Self at bay, even if only temporarily. Eventually you will get your Healthy Self back in the driver’s seat.