Home » How to rewire negative thought patterns on your journey towards food freedom
When you’re attempting to heal your relationship with food and your body, overcoming those deeply ingrained negative beliefs stemming from diet culture is often one of the biggest obstacles standing between you and food freedom.
If you find yourself getting stuck in a cycle of disordered thought patterns, you’re not alone!
Cognitive reframing or cognitive restructuring is a tool used in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to rewire a person’s thought processes by challenging unhelpful concepts and ideas.1 It is based on the theory that perspective is learned and can be altered.
The goal is to eventually establish a more constructive interpretation of difficult circumstances. While you can’t prevent uncomfortable situations from occurring, you can change the way you think about them.
Amongst other CBT strategies, cognitive reframing has strong evidence supporting its use in eating disorders.2
The process of cognitive reframing is fairly simple. First, using the prompts outlined below, reflect on the negative event, your interpretation of it and the consequences that occurred. Next, challenge this interpretation and develop an alternative conclusion that is more constructive.
Cognitive reframing is most effective when it’s done as soon after the negative situation as possible. You might like to write your reflections down in a notebook or type it out on your phone – whatever works for you!
The activating event is the situation that triggered the disordered thoughts and the resulting negative consequences.
Your interpretation of the activating event is demonstrated by the thoughts that occur as a result. This is what we are trying to challenge with cognitive reframing!
The consequences are the emotions, physical experiences and behaviours that result from your interpretation of the activating event.
Disputing is at the very core of cognitive reframing. This is where you interrupt your negative thoughts and behaviours to begin replacing them with more positive or neutral alternatives.
The final step is the end result, where you reflect on the process and decide to do things differently next time.
Although this process might sound time-consuming, the more you practice cognitive reframing, the easier it will become. Over time, you’ll be able to do this more quickly, and eventually the more positive thought will become the automatic one.
Let’s put cognitive reframing into action in the context of disordered eating. Here’s how it might look using an example of a situation that many of our clients find themselves in:
I went shopping with a friend at my favourite store. I tried on a shirt in my usual size but it was much too small. I thought I would be size A but I was actually size B.
This must mean that I have lost control and gained a lot of weight. Everyone will be thinking how terrible I look. I think these thoughts are based on the belief that being thinner will make me more attractive and loveable.
I felt overwhelmed (9/10), ashamed (10/10) and helpless (8/10). I had an increased heart rate and my chest feels tight. I spent extra time at the gym to feel more in control.
My thoughts are probably not based on fact because all of my other clothes still fit me. Other possible explanations for the activating event are that the size of that particular shirt runs small or that the cut is not right for my body. I would tell a friend that their clothes are meant to fit them, not the other way around. My sister would tell me that my clothing size doesn’t make me any more or less loveable.
After thinking of a more logical explanation, I feel calmer. Rather than increasing my exercise next time I feel out of control, I will do a meditation practice or a grounding exercise.
At Embody Health London, our dietitians specialise in helping our clients to find peace with food and their bodies. Reach out to us at [email protected] to learn more about how we can support you through this.
Karli Battaglia MDiet, APD
EHL Team x
The Feelings Wheel, originally created by Dr Gloria Willcox and sourced from Calm (https://blog.calm.com/blog/the-feelings-wheel)
Embody Health London champions food freedom, positive body image, mental health and emotional wellbeing through a uniquely blended scientific and holistic approach. The EHL team specialises in treating chronic dieting and eating disorders by coaching clients to build confidence and reduce anxiety around their eating habits and food choices.
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