You’ve probably heard that keeping a food diary is one of the best strategies to manage weight – but what if you get writer’s block and are now wondering how to overcome writer’s block?
As a writer of over 500 long-form blog posts, a few ebooks, and starting a few blogs I am well acquainted with writer’s block.
I firmly believe that food journaling in a manner prescribed by CBT, which is much different than your standard ‘calorie’ food diary, can help you to stop overeating and binge eating.
As writing in a journal is such an integral part of how I help clients, I want to make sure that my clients and others know how to overcome the pretty common phenomenon of writer’s block.
Please note that I orient this discussion towards food journaling, but if you struggle with writer’s block for other aspects of life, most of this information will still apply.
In this post I’ll be discussing how to overcome writer’s block, starting with the basics and then ending with a practical action steps:
- Is writer’s block a real thing?
- What causes writer’s block?
- How do I unblock writer’s block?
Is Writer’s Block A Real Thing?
Write down what you eat, they say, and you’ll notice when you overeat and by how much. Supposedly this will help with weight loss, but what happens if you stop writing down what you eat?
The problem with keeping a food journal for most people is that they run out of motivation to keep making entries in the food journal.
Writer’s block is a real thing, and it applies to keeping a food journal too.
Here is the formal definition of writer’s block, according to the Cambridge Dictionary:
“The condition of being unable to create a piece of written work because something in your mind prevents you from doing it”.
Here’s another fascinating article on Writer’s Block on Wikipedia, which notes that writer’s block has been affecting people for centuries, including famous people like:
- F. Scott Fitzgerald
- Joseph Mitchell
- Charles M. Schulz
So yes, writer’s block is real.
What Causes Writer’s Block? 3 Thoughts By Famous Writers
Here are 3 quotes by famous writers who talk about the causes of writer’s block.
They share a variety of perspectives about what causes writer’s block. Although they don’t specifically talk about writer’s block in relation to keeping a food journal, I believe that many of their perspectives are right on the money with respect to food journaling..
1) Malcolm Gladwell – Expectations:
“I think the trouble starts when you sit down to write and imagine that you will achieve something magical and magnificent — and when you don’t, panic sets in.”
Sometimes what stops us is thinking we need to come up with something profound. But oftentimes the expectation of needing to write something profound stops us from writing in the first place.
If you are beginning to write it’s especially important that you have lower expectations.
2) Susan Neville – Lack Of Practice
“Writer’s block is a misnomer and can be compared with turning off a faucet. Like the ability to write, faucets can develop problems when they’re seldom used. You get all this rust in the pipes. When you turn on the faucet, a lot of rust comes out.”
Put simply, if you aren’t writing in your journal regularly, then it’ll be more difficult.
3) Mark Manson – Anxiety
“Writer’s block is just another name for anxiety. People always have something else to say. It’s not like you ever run out of ideas. There’s just a filter in our brains where we decide what is “worthy” of being put down on paper, and when that filter gets too strong (due to high expectations or fear of being judged or whatever), few ideas will get through it.”
I believe these three quotes nicely summarize the three main causes of writing block:
- Lack of Practice
However, there is a fourth cause of writer’s block unique to food journaling …
Normally when you are writing a book or blog journal, you have some sort of intrinsic motivation, for example:
- You’re working towards a goal
- You feel inspired
- You are expressing yourself
Unfortunately, with the vast majority of food ‘diaries’, the only emphasis in this type of journaling is recording calories for the sake of weight loss.
Here is a typical food diary entry from this type of journaling:
This type of journaling is very mechanical and routine. There is no creativity, curiosity or growth. It’s boring!
In addition to being boring, this style of journaling promotes black and white thinking, which in itself is a cause of binge eating.
For example, you write down that you had too many calories for the day when your goal was only 2000 calories for the day, then why not binge for the rest of the day and restart tomorrow?
The line of thinking goes like this: since I screwed up today, why don’t I just eat whatever I want today and then start fresh tomorrow?
Here’s the final nail in the coffin: this method of journaling for weight loss only works in the short term!
Just think about it – how long have you ever kept a food journal?
It’s my belief that many people can’t keep a food journal of this type for any significant length of time because it’s dull, boring and routine. There’s no engagement needed, and therefore people check out.
While it’s true that there are studies showing recording calories is an important part of weight loss, these studies are limited in length.
There has been no long-term study of journaling showing long-term weight loss, at least from what I can find.
Instead, what we see is that people who try to lose weight actually regain the weight. And then they start binge eating as a result of their dieting / weight loss attempts.
It just is unfortunate because journaling is oftentimes a core pillar of weight loss programs. But since these programs usually don’t work, many times people have an extreme aversion to journaling!
When I say ‘pointless’ here’s what I mean:
- Promoting black and white thinking
- Down right ineffective
Sadly, oftentimes authority figures like The American Heart Association recommend this style of journaling when it really doesn’t work.
So let me be clear: overcoming writer’s block is absolutely impossible if you feel the process is boring and ineffective.
But as you’ll see below, to cure writer’s block you need to be engaged! You must have a process that helps get your creative juices flowing.
How Do I Unblock Writer’s Block?
Here are some general tips to overcome writer’s block!
After I cover these tips, I’ll show another way of food journaling that’s different than the calorie journals of old. This new way of food journaling addresses the problem of ‘pointlessness’ by presenting a new writing process.
But first let’s dive into these tips for writer’s block in general!
Tips To Get Back Your Writing Flow
- Jot: Don’t worry about complete sentences or fully fleshed out ideas, just write the most impactful words on top of your mind. Examples: health, productivity, love, frustration.
- Listen to music: Sometimes you just need to shift your energy to get the words flowing.
- Go on a walk: There’s nothing better than going on a walk and letting those ideas in your head percolate. You can let your mind wander as you walk and it’s easier to sort through all your ideas as you stroll and figure out the few ideas which you really like.
- Brew a cup of coffee: For some reason the act of brewing a cup of coffee and then sipping on the hot liquid really helps me write my ideas out. Try it and let me know how it goes!
- Don’t start at the beginning: Sometimes you have a great idea, but you can’t find a way to introduce that great idea. Just start to write in the middle of the piece where you are just writing about that great idea, and then worry about the introduction later.
- Switch tasks and come back to it later: Sometimes you just need a break from your writing routine. If you words aren’t coming, then just pause for a while and come back to it. Be honest with yourself though, because if you feel that what you are doing is not good enough, then nothing will unblock you because your motivation simply isn’t there.
- Do something easy: This tip is similar to walking, but you could also just wash dishes, watch a movie, or basically just do anything to keep your mind preoccupied for a little bit while your unconscious mind stews on some ideas. When you come back to writing you might have some ideas ready to express.
- Freewrite: Get a blank page and just start writing and don’t stop, no editing. Just do it. Stream of consciousness. Like this. Don’t worry if sentences are too short. Just write. Don’t stop. Blah blah blah. Just say random stuff. Get it all out on paper. This can be thought of as your first draft.
- Set a timer or deadline: Some of us work best under pressure, even if we set a timer for 30 minutes or a deadline 24 hours from now. I personally try to create 2 blog articles per week. While this isn’t a strict deadline, it’s a standard I hold myself too!
Finally, let me end this article on writer’s block by providing a template on a new way of journaling.
New Way Of Food Journaling
This template down below comes from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which is a treatment for overeating.
If you would like to learn more about how Eating Enlightenment and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy synthesize to help coach clients to overcome overeating, please read these frequently asked questions here.
Here’s the template, and then I’ll list some major differences between the old calorie food diary and this new way.
New Food Journal Template
This journal above hopefully solves the problem of ‘pointlessness’ in terms of keeping a food journal.
As discussed previously, many people have tried to write a food journal simply by routinely recording calories.
This was problematic as anything boring and routine leads to people becoming disengaged.
When you also realize that for most people these calorie journals were linked to attempts at weight loss, and that for many of these people their weight loss attempts backfired and caused binge eating, then you see why people don’t like food journals!
This way of food journaling is different for several key reasons:
- Psychology – This journal approach is explicit about noticing your thoughts, feeling and emotions
- Location – A key part of understanding binge eating is knowing where you binge and what areas you are most susceptible to binge eating. For many people, they get triggered in the kitchen. While people may ‘know’ on some level they binge on the kitchen, if they write down ‘kitchen’ then this simple act of writing will make all the difference. A person will ‘see’ this trigger in a different way and be able to more easily prevent binges from occurring.
- No emphasis on amounts of food: While there is a column for ‘food’ in the template, note that not much emphasis is given to amounts of food. For example there is no mention of calories or anything like that.
Overall, this journal emphasizes learning. By studying your psychology and behavioral habits, you can make food journaling more engaging and positive.
If you were feeling stressed and binged in the kitchen, and you noted your thoughts about in your journal, then next time you can try to prevent the stress from occurring.
Perhaps you were feeling sad before you binged. Well, with this journal you have a record of your psychology so you can more easily pinpoint what to do differently next time.
This is where the engagement, the cure to ‘pointlessness’, comes in!
This journal – where you study your own psychology – leads to people progressively seeing their eating mistakes and then self-correcting their eating mistakes.
This is ultimately how to overcome writer’s block – you keep learning, growing and improving along the way!
For example, it’s almost impossible to not change your habits when you see how anxious you are around food.
Put simply, the very simple act of writing out your thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations before you eat dramatically changes your actual eating behavior.
So if you have a writer’s block in keeping a food journal, please realize you were probably using the old methodology based on calories.
This way of food journaling is different. Simply by writing down your ‘why’ before you eat can be the key to helping you ultimately overcome writer’s block. Give it a shot and let me know how it goes!