No matter which eating disorder (ED) you’re facing, you are likely spending a lot of time “in your head.” That is, you probably spend a lot of time battling disquieting, intrusive thoughts and ideas about food, eating, your body shape, and your weight.
What thoughts are most common?
Perhaps some of these thoughts ring true:
• “If I eat something, I will feel better.”
• “I can never eat that. It will make me fat!”
• “I have to control my eating all the time or I’ll end up overweight.”
• “Being fat is the worst thing that could happen to me.”
Dysfunctional thoughts are often difficult to pin down and even keep from occurring automatically. Learning to pay attention to them and manage them is not easy. Unhelpful or dysfunctional thinking makes the feelings and habits surrounding your eating disorder particularly destructive to you and your relationships.
Without a plan to deal with these thoughts, the pressure and stress you can place on your body, as a result, robs you of the mental and physical health you deserve.
So, what do you do to change your mind and thoughts? Let’s explore several strategies:
1. Challenge Dysfunctional Thoughts
Your dysfunctional thoughts are beliefs and ideas that need to be confronted with evidence. You need to know whether there is support for what you keep telling yourself and what you accept as truth about your body and worth.
How do you challenge your beliefs? Ask some key questions:
• What is the evidence for my thoughts? List supporting information logically and clearly. Examine the facts closely. If there are none, accept that and move on.
• What are alternative beliefs? Think through other possibilities. Perhaps you may be better served by exploring other ideas about yourself and the way others view you.
• What are the repercussions of indulging dysfunctional thinking? Examine how your perceptions and ruminations are getting in your way. Notice and pay attention to any mental or physical discomfort.
2. Externalize Dysfunctional Thoughts
When you are tempted to accept unproductive thinking, don’t simply do as the thoughts tell you. Instead, get your unhelpful thought outside of yourself. This is called externalization.
For instance, when you think, “Pizza makes me fat,” mark that thought immediately. This is ED thinking so put it in its place. Think instead that your ED wants you to believe that pizza will make you fat.
Why is this important? Because when you recognize how much power ED has, you can develop thoughts that do more than challenge with facts… they push back (“ED, I will not let you push me around or deprive me”).
3. Record Dysfunctional Thoughts
Sometimes you just need to see your thoughts in black and white to get a real sense of the toll they take on your health and well-being.
In a journal, write the automatic thoughts that steal your peace of mind. At the end of the day, review the pages to track the state of your thoughts, their triggers, and your reactions. Then, consider more logical responses, and write them down, too.
As you practice this strategy routinely, you may find that you can see and tackle problem-thinking more efficiently and completely.
4. Experiment with Your Dysfunctional Thoughts
Sometimes you have such convincing dysfunctional thoughts that it takes a real-world experiment to disengage from such thinking.
Are your thoughts trained on the idea that certain foods will pile on the pounds? Simply test your belief.
Perform an experiment to see what will happen if you eat food or skip a few days of exercise. Weigh yourself, track your meals, measure your waist and consider the results.
After several experiments, the inaccuracies of your thoughts will likely reveal themselves.
Take the first step…
Are you ready to start working on your dysfunctional thoughts? I would like to help you through the challenges and recovery from your eating disorder.
Please contact me via phone or email so we can discuss how we might work together to accomplish your therapeutic goals as quickly and effectively as possible.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Linda K. Laffey, MFT