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How Can Journaling Help with Eating Disorder Recovery?

Journaling Is a Self-Awareness Technique Used at Most Eating Disorder Treatment Centers

Writing in a journal is more than simply keeping a personal history of your thoughts or feelings; it’s a crucial way to track and guide the process of recovering from an eating disorder.  Here, we’ll outline what this useful technique entails and how to get the most out of it.


Many of the best eating disorder treatment centers start the journaling process with specialized worksheets that set a template for future journaling. The worksheets show the structure that will best support the individual’s recovery. The sections on the worksheet may include a breakdown of any associated thoughts and feelings that arose during meals, both the positive and negative ones.

These worksheets serve as a basis for future self-guided journaling as people in treatment learn how to apply the worksheet structure appropriately. As they become more familiar and feel more at ease expressing their feelings about food and eating, the individual in question can identify which thoughts and feelings are disordered and begin to debunk them.

The Best Way to Keep a Journal for Self-Monitoring

After moving on from the template guidance that worksheets provide, it’s time to begin journaling in earnest. This skill is essential to understanding one’s self after leaving eating disorder treatment when self-guided recovery kicks in.

In general, it’s recommended that journaling is done on paper, not digitally, for the more personal connection it brings – as well as the fact that it’s much harder to alter or delete than a word processor.  The simple act of writing by hand makes the process more compelling.

Journaling should be done regularly, with therapists recommending that individuals write their thoughts down at the end of the day. It’s essential to be honest when writing in a journal – even if negative or disordered thoughts and feelings occur, they should be sugarcoated or ignored. Clients also have to make an effort to remain mindful and receptive throughout each and every day. With this dedicated approach, it is possible for clients to build on the lessons learned in treatment.

Journaling Is a Great Way to Track Progress

Each journal entry provides a glimpse into a person’s innermost thoughts and feelings and provides a history of their growth in recovery. Each step, backward and forwards is tracked, providing a snapshot of the treatment journey. These trends tend to reveal the underlying problems that trigger eating disorder symptoms, including disordered thought patterns and dysfunctional behaviors.

Another great use of journaling is to track eating habits and meals – when it’s there in black and white, it’s harder to deny skipped meals or binge eating or purging behaviors. When trying to establish a regular eating/nutrition routine, this can be a lifesaver.

When needed, journal entries and meal trackers can also be reviewed with the individual’s therapists and support system. They may provide new perspectives and ideas on how to progress that the journaler might not see clearly. Eating disorder therapists can also set up helpful exercises that assist clients in coping with roadblocks to becoming and remaining recovered.

Remaining Recovered Through Self-Monitoring and Journaling

With self-monitoring in the form of consistent journaling, there is a way to track progress in recovery as well as a way to engage in mindful self-monitoring.Perhaps the most useful aspect of this skill is the way it can continue long after residential or outpatient care has been completed. Self-monitoring and journaling support all of the other skills learned in treatment. With enough practice, individuals can notice objectively when disordered thoughts and behaviors are threatening to return, or already have.

A commitment to continuing these practices outside of treatment is paramount in remaining recovered and staying accountable for your behaviors and actions. Especially when reviewed with a therapist or eating disorder counselor, these potential relapses can be caught and avoided more easily. To learn more about how journaling works in an eating disorder recovery perspective, check out these available resources.

Melissa Spann, PhD, LMHC, CEDS-S

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.

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