We all know that tracking your food and workouts is proven to help with weight loss, but what about journaling what's important to you? Can the simple act of writing down what matters to you most in life help you to live a healthier life? Values and weight may not seem related but they might just be, according to a new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
The study looked at 45 women with a body mass index (BMI) of 23 or higher, with a little more of half of them considered overweight or obese. (A normal weight BMI is 18.5 to 24.9.) The women were weighed and then given a list of values — relationships with friends and family, politics, music, creativity, etc. — that they were to rank in order of importance. Then, half of the group was told to write for 15 minutes about which value they found to be most important. The other half was told to write about a value they found unimportant yet why someone else might see it as important.
A month later, the women who wrote about their important values lost an average of 3.4 pounds. The other women who didn't write about one of their important values actually gained an average of 2.76 pounds. The women were not told that weight loss was being studied nor that they should try to lose weight.
"Many choose 'Relationships with friends and family' as their most important value, and they write things like 'My friends and family are always there for me, they love me no matter what...' and so on," says Christine Logel of the Department of Social Development Studies, Renison University College, University of Waterloo. "Women in the control group wrote about an unimportant value and why it might be important for someone else. So they do a very similar task, except it doesn't have personal meaning for them, and thus doesn't give them a boost."
This type of writing where you focus on your values is probably most beneficial because it reduces stress — unlike other types of writing and tracking, Logel hypothesizes.
"I came across one study that writing down what you eat, although it can be effective, is stressful — people's stress hormones increase, and they report more stress, too," she says. "I think the research suggests that anything that helps cope with stress could complement standard diet programs, and benefit wellbeing in areas including weight control."
More study is needed to see if focusing on values will deliberately help women to lose weight, but Logel says the results are definitely encouraging. In fact, she puts her research into practice by carrying around a keychain that has her most important value written on it, so that whenever she happens to pick up her keys, she sees it. She also has her cell phone programmed to occasionally pop up with a reminder to put things into perspective. She thinks it helps her do just that.
"I think it is safe to say that taking time to reflect on the values that bring meaning to your life -- your relationships, causes you believe in, art or music, groups you belong to, your spiritual beliefs -- is worthwhile and may well have benefits," she says.
What values are most important to you? Friends? Family? Career? The arts? Let's share them!
Jennipher Walters is the CEO and co-founder of the healthy living websites FitBottomedGirls.com and FitBottomedMamas.com. A certified personal trainer, lifestyle and weight management coach and group exercise instructor, she also holds an MA in health journalism and regularly writes about all things fitness and wellness for various online publications.