Have you ever thought about how powerful your thoughts are and how quickly they can alter your mood? Truthfully, how often does a thought or series of thoughts ruin a perfectly good day for you? How often do you grab something to eat to calm or soothe yourself because of overwhelming, anxious or depressive thoughts? For most overeaters, the answer is quite often.
When the majority of our thoughts are positive and optimistic we feel good and as if we can accomplish anything. But when our internal world is not so positive, and is instead full of negative, critical, self-defeating thoughts, we feel bad—frustrated, overwhelmed, anxious, depressed, hopeless or powerless. These unpleasant emotions, generated by our negative thoughts, can quickly lead to an exaggerated desire for comfort and distraction. We may even actually feel physically hungry.
Cara, a forty-two year old graphic designer, signed up for an online dating service and after a few encouraging phone conversations she looked forward to a dinner date with Ed, a media executive. She felt very discouraged and hopeless after their first meeting, and while she liked Ed, she feared he would never call her again. As she drove home she began to bombard herself with negative thoughts:
“I’ll never find a life-partner.”
“I’m just not young enough, thin enough or attractive enough.”
“I’ve never been good at dating.”
“I’ll always be alone.”
Cara stopped at the market on her way home and bought her favorite ice cream and cookies. After consuming a half-gallon of ice cream and half the bag of cookies, she felt numb and soothed. The frustration and hopelessness of the date with Ed was, for now, a forgotten memory.
Cara “used” the food for soothing, comfort and pleasurable distraction. But the food won’t help her learn to think more positively about herself and her life. The food won’t offer her the hope she yearns for either.
One way Cara can take care of herself is to begin to address her pattern of self-defeating, black–and-white thinking. The truth is, Cara doesn’t have a crystal ball and she doesn’t know for sure that she will never find a life-partner or that she will be alone forever or even that Ed will never call. And it’s not that she has never been good at dating—in fact, dating in the past has resulted in relationships. She just doesn’t enjoy the process of dating. And truthfully, not many of us do.
Cara must begin to practice loving and accepting herself as is today. By recycling more self-affirming thoughts she can build her self-esteem and a more positive outlook towards her future. By refraining from using words that convey extremes, like never and always, she can begin to see the grey areas filled with possibility.
Cara worked on replacing her self-defeating thoughts with more self-affiirming, empowering thoughts:
Self-defeating thought: “I’ll never find a life partner.”
Self-affirming thought: “As I relax into this dating process and give it time, there is
good reason to believe that I will find a suitable partner.”
Self-defeating thought: “I’m just not young enough, thin enough or attractive enough.”
Self-affirming thought: “I am fine just the way I am. I don’t need to be younger,
thinner or more attractive to find a partner. I just need to
accept and love myselfas is. Self love isvery
Self-defeating thought: “I’ve never been good at dating.”
Self-affirming thought: “I’m actually fine at dating, I just don’t enjoy that part of the
process. If I’m not so attached to the outcome and I see it as
a way to learn about myself and others, it’s actually more
Self-defeating thought: “I’ll always be alone.”
Self-affirming thought: “I’ve joined a dating site and I’m proud of myself for taking
that step. There are plenty of men on the site and there’s a
good possibility that I will find a suitable partner. It will just
take some time.
Cara began to notice that not only did she feel better by practicing replacing her self-defeating thoughts, but her overeating was greatly diminished.
You too can begin to reduce your overeating, or use of other distractions, and feel better in this moment by taking the time to catch and replace your self-defeating thoughts. While it takes some time and effort, the benefits will keep you coming back for more.
P.S. Ed did call Cara and they started dating. So far, so good!
Posted by Julie M. Simon, MA, MBA, MFT. If you have a question or topic you would like to see addressed in this blog, go to http: //www.overeatingrecovery.com.