You’re out for lunch with your best friend, the sun is shining, the waiter is cute, and you’ve been laughing non-stop the entire time. And then your bestie suggests looking at the dessert menu.
While eyeing the menu, you think to yourself:
A: Hmm I’m really craving a small piece of chocolate cake. I think I’ll suggest we share a piece and I’ll savor and enjoy every mouthful.
B: I should not have a piece of cake, but what the hell, I’ll start my diet again tomorrow. Ugh, I know, I’m so weak.
If you identify with option B, your thoughts might be sabotaging your weight. That’s because there’s so much more to losing weight than just the food you eat. Your thoughts are incredibly powerful and can either help you lose weight or damage your best efforts due to negative thinking.
The good thing is, that we always have the power to choose our attitude.
The difference between someone who remains hopeful despite experiencing great suffering, and the person who stubs her toe and stays angry all day is all based around this person’s thinking patterns.
When we see things irrationally or negatively, psychologists call this ‘cognitive distortion’ which basically means our thinking is out of whack. This often occurs as automatic thoughts, that we don’t even realize because they’re so ingrained in our daily habits.
Cognitive distortion can take a serious toll on your mental wellbeing and can lead to stress, depression, anxiety and yes, weight gain. If left unchecked to run riot in your head, these automatic thoughts can negatively affect the logical way you make decisions in your life.
But we can change our habits, once we become aware of them.
So, let’s go through some of the most common ones and see if any of them relate to how you think or react to situations:
You typically see things in terms of either/or. Something is either good or bad, right or wrong, all or nothing. Black-and-white thinking fails to acknowledge that there are almost always several shades of grey that exist between the black and white in life. By seeing only two possible sides or outcomes to something, you ignore the middle—and possibly more reasonable—ground.
Example: “I had a piece of cake and now I’m a complete failure on my diet, so I might as well go binge-eat and start back on my diet tomorrow.”
This is the ‘big sister’ of black-or-white thinking. You may see a single negative event as an ongoing pattern of failure that’s blown out of proportion. You use words like “always,” “never,” “every,” or “all.”
Example: “I didn’t order the healthy salad. I’m always doing that in restaurants! I just can’t trust myself to eat out with friends ever. I’ll never get to my goal weight.”
You tend to take things personally. You may blame things that other people do on yourself. This type of thinking also causes you to blame yourself for external circumstances outside of your control.
Example: “Sarah must be annoyed with me because I said I didn’t feel like the cupcake she’d baked when she offered it to me today. I’m a bad friend.”
Maximizing or Minimizing
You either amplify your failures or downplay your successes. Life comes with its ups and downs and you need to enjoy your triumphs, however small, and accept some failures. Give yourself some credit and ease up on the judgment.
Example: “I just know I’m going to weigh more tomorrow because of that brunch.” “I only swam 10 lengths this morning, and I should have done 20.”
Thoughts that include “should,” “ought,” or “must” are almost always related to cognitive distortion. This type of thinking may cause feelings of guilt or shame. These thoughts can lead you to feel frustrated, angry or bitter when you or others fail to meet these unrealistic expectations. Shoulda, coulda, woulda!
Example: “I should go to the gym tonight, even though I am exhausted.”
So, what can you do about it?
Step one is acknowledging when these types of thoughts pop into your head. The best way to keep a record and start to say: “Hey cognitive distortion…I see you!” is to write it down in a journal.
Think about the situation that triggered this type of thinking – what the underlying irrational thought or feeling was (i.e.: He thinks I am fat, and I feel ashamed and humiliated).
Can you think of evidence that contradicts this thought (i.e.: He’s never complained about my size before, I just feel uncomfortable in this dress, and it’s making me self-conscious)?
Now think about what you could do or say to yourself or the other person that counteracts your negative thinking (i.e.: I can stop wearing clothes that make me feel insecure, I have a man that loves me for me, no matter what my size or shape).
Learn to accept that disappointment and bumps do happen in life, and that’s normal. All you can do is work with what is in your control…like your thoughts.
If you want to find peace with food, check out my 3-part training series here.