By Winnie Velasquez, VERA Files
Best known for her book The Artist's Way, Julia Cameron is hardly the person readers would associate with a weight-loss program but as she says in the prologue of the book The Writing Diet subtitled Write Yourself Right-Size, she accidentally stumbled upon a weight-loss regimen that works.
In more than three decades of teaching creative unblocking, a 12-week process based on The Artist's Way, Cameron saw her students getting leaner and more fit as they progressed in the course. "To my seasoned eye, weight loss is a frequent by-product of creative recovery. Overeating blocks our creativity. The flip side is also true: we can use creativity to block our overeating," she says.
The Writing Diet works because it is practical and inexpensive. It shows how creativity tools can be used to alter consciousness. "Writing is a weight-loss tool that is overlooked, under-used and extremely powerful," Cameron says.
The seven tools are:
1. Morning pages. Write three pages each morning on whatever comes to mind. This makes you look inward and puts you in touch with your emotions and focus on difficult personal issues one day at a time. Many people find that most of the time food is the favored blocking device.
2. The journal. In this food journal which you should carry with you always, keep a record of every single time you eat and every single time you feel like eating. Record whenever and whatever you are tempted to eat.
3. Walking. Exercise is essential and walking is the most practical. Some people will say that they have no time for this but 20 minutes a day can be carved out of the busiest life simply be replacing worrying with walking. Walking allows you to let off steam, analyze your thoughts, think of ways to cope with disappointment, calm the nerves, and allows you to connect to your inner self and with a higher being. A brisk 20-minute walk daily helps lower cholesterol and weight.
4. The four questions. The snack attack is the worst enemy of weight watchers and the most potent tool to fight this is the four questions: Am I hungry? Is this what I feel like eating? Is this what I feel like eating now? Is there something else I could eat instead? These four questions is the best defensive tool that dieters have and allows them to channel their eating along healthier lines.
5. Culinary artist dates. The writing diet includes a fun, creative culinary outing once a week. Plan ahead to have that perfect meal carefully considering what you want to eat and where. Dining out alone gives you the freedom to choose what you want without anyone questioning your choices.
6. HALT. Taken from the 12-step process to alcohol abstinence, HALT is also applicable to take control of our eating habits. Put off eating when you are too hungry, too angry, too lonely, or too tired. Set aside 30 minutes for some self-scrutiny. Describe what happens in each instance of HALT and "design" a new behavior to cope with each one. Train yourself to eat regular meals and not to put off eating when you are so famished or so tired. When angry or lonely, turn to your journal and vent your feelings instead of using food to feel good.
7. The Body Buddy. Find an objective person with whom you can be completely candid. You don't want an enabler who will tell you that you don't need to lose weight as your inner beauty will shine through. You don't need a harsh "keeper" who treats everything you put in your mouth a crime. What you need is a person who is balanced, kind, and objective at the same time. The Buddy Buddy will see things that you don't, hidden stresses that repeatedly trigger your overeating and devise strategies that help curb your appetites, like exercise. To choose a Body Buddy make sure to pick someone who is emotionally available to you daily whether by phone, in person, or by email.
The book also tackles situations and provides solutions for those instances when you are likely to overeat. Among these are the snack attack, trigger foods, special occasions, the food hangover, night eating, food as sedative, food as high, and what to do when you have a diet relapse.
It advocates clean eating, meaning sensible eating, nothing too radical, nothing too strictly. Eat moderately. Don't weigh or measure food but be conscious of portion size. Stop bingeing on the deadly whites — sugar, flour, starches. Drink at least eight eight-ounce glasses of water a day. Eat three meals a day and two small snacks, all modest in calories. Eat food that is as close to its natural state as possible. If you eat clean ninety percent of the time, you are eating for weight loss and optimal health.
And when you relapse on your weight-loss program, go back to your journal, use the four questions and analyze where and how you stumbled. Then go back to your daily routine. Patience and persistence are your best allies. As Cameron says, "I cannot promise you a new career when you undertake the Writing Diet. What I can promise you is increased clarity, increased energy, and increased productivity. As you write you will lose weight and gain creativity."
(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for "true.")