My friend Lori Parker sent me an article published in Psychological Science claiming that certain kinds of personal, reflective writing can actually help you lose weight! How about that?
Simply put, a study found that a group of female undergraduates assigned to write an essay about a value that was important to them lost a few pounds over the next few months. Those in a control group assigned to write about something else did not. Why? Analysts concluded that when people write about subjects that reinforce their self-integrity, they develop more ballast to sustain them during life’s normal crises and are less likely to engage in emotional eating to feel good about themselves. Interesting, huh?
I’ve long known that writing life stories can yield an array of personal benefits. I observe it in my students time and again. Recently I taught a memoir writing class to a new group of middle-aged adults. I gave them a homework assignment to write a story about their childhood home and asked them to bring their stories with them the following week. I love my second classes with new students. They stride into the classroom wearing a renewed sense of themselves like a new suit of clothes. They fairly glow with pride. They learned something about themselves during the week through their writing, and they can hardly wait to tell me about it.
Even students who write about unpleasant things from their past derive benefits from the experience, though it may be hard going for a while. Writing about difficult issues can sometimes be a gut-wrenching experience, but in the end, and nearly always, writing about difficult topics from the distance of time and with increased maturity turns out to be a deeply healing endeavor that leads to self-understanding and renewal, and even forgiveness and charity to nearly everyone involved.
We all have a deep human need to be known and understood, even the most shy and introverted among us. We need confirmation that our lives have mattered, that we will be remembered when we’re gone. A few years ago, a close friend faced a serious surgery that she feared she might not survive. The night before her surgery, she confided in me that she had been raped as a teenager. She had never told anyone before, she explained, and it occurred to me with a painful insight that she had born this burden all her life and couldn’t bear to take it with her to her grave without someone else knowing. Zora Neale Hurston once said, “”There is no agony like bearing an until story inside you.”
Sometimes people feel that writing one’s memoirs is a selfish, vain endeavor, a complete waste of time. I’m of a different opinion. It’s a gift as nurturing to our overall mental, physical, and spiritual health as exercise, healthy eating, and meditation. And, hey, if we lose a few pounds in the process, well, that’s a good thing, too.