Can sitting in a chair, writing, help you lose weight? It sounds crazy, but New York City artist and author Julia Cameron, 59, swears it's true. In her new book, "The Writing Diet: Write Yourself Right-Size" (Penguin), she argues that engaging in creative pursuits like writing can prevent overeating and describes how writing in a journal can help reveal and improve readers' relationships with food. NEWSWEEK's Karen Springen spoke with Cameron, who also wrote the best-selling book "The Artist's Way," which guides readers to becoming more creative, about how counting words instead of calories may help you shed those holiday pounds. Excerpts:
NEWSWEEK: How does writing help you lose weight?
Julia Cameron: The bedrock tool of weight loss is writing three morning pages. These are longhand, stream-of-consciousness writings about absolutely anything that is annoying you, bugging you, vexing you or just simply capturing your attention. You become more in tune with your own needs and desires, which means that you make peace with some of your frustrations. Instead of eating, you discover what's eating you. Write in the morning about the day you're going to have. And during the day you keep a food journal of everything you eat.
How did you get this idea?
Desperation is the mother of invention. Three years ago I was put on a mood-stabilizing medicine that caused me to gain 40 pounds ... I said to myself, there must be something I can do that's going to keep me from gaining more and help me to get rid of this. I thought, I'm going to try to write my way thin.
And it worked?
Yes. I wrote morning pages every day, which keeps you from doing emotional eating. Then I kept a journal, where I jot down everything that I ate and temptations.
What were your temptations?
I live with a professional baker. I get up in the morning to the smell of gingersnaps. That has to be off limits for me. By keeping a journal, I got to watch my own rationalizations. That was very helpful. Then I threw in taking a daily walk, just to speed up my metabolism ... [And] before I ate, I asked myself four questions: Am I really hungry? Is this what I want to eat? Is this what I want to eat now? Is there anything I can eat instead? That leads you to start making smart substitutions. Instead of the piece of cherry pie, you eat strawberry Diet Jell-O, for example.
Does it matter whether you type on a computer or write on paper, from a dieting perspective?
Write longhand. It's a little bit slower than working on the computer, and you tend to become more in touch with your emotions. On the computer, you get speed and distance, but not necessarily depth.
How much weight can someone expect to lose on the "writing diet"?
I went from a [size] 16 to a 10.
A lot of people keep food and drink nearby while writing. Do you?
What you don't want to do is become a permanent grazer, where you keep potato chips in your desk ... I keep a pitcher of pure cranberry juice, mixed in water, and coffee.
What if someone isn't a writer?
Everybody can write. We just put a lot of hoopla around being a "real" writer. This diet is aimed to be able to be used by anyone.
Is there more to this than regularly writing and walking?
Planning ahead. I ask people to remember "H.A.L.T.": don't let yourself get too hungry, angry, lonely or tired. They lead to overeating. The last tip in the tool section is get a body buddy--enlisting the help and support of someone who agrees with your agenda of becoming thinner.
The idea is that if you're feeling good, you're less likely to overeat or indulge in fatty foods?
Yes. If you're feeling good, you're more likely to get out and about ... You don't have to have a big drop in pounds to have a big shift upward in self-esteem. As long as you're going in the right direction, you tend to be more energized.