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Challenging Eating Disorder Thoughts

When you have an eating disorder, it is common to have various disordered eating thoughts outside of your awareness. It can be helpful to increase awareness of eating disorder thoughts because they can play a key role in influencing what you do, or the specific behaviors that may be maintaining youreating disorder. Eating disorder thoughts can also influence how you feel, or your emotions.

Common eating disorder thoughts may include “I have eaten so poorly today, I may as well binge” or “No one will ever love me unless I lose weight” or “I will never recover, there is no point in trying”

In therapy, we often work together to challenge and reframe eating disorder thoughts. For example:

If the thought is “I already ate too much, I may as well binge” we may work on reframing the thought to “My recovery is a continuum. Just because I overate doesn’t mean I should binge. A little overeating is normal”

Or if the thought is “I ate a big breakfast, I should skip lunch” we may work on reframing the thought to “One meal is independent of another. Just because I ate a bigger breakfast than usual doesn’t mean I should skip lunch”

Or sometimes the thought may be “I chose my eating disorder, so the health issues I am experiencing are my fault”, which could be reframed to “My eating disorder was not a choice. Blaming myself is not helpful.”

Sometimes people who struggle with compulsive exercise may think “I need to work out X hours to eat”, which could be reframed to “I do not have to earn my food through exercise”

Or perhaps there is fear of eating certain foods, such as “If I eat this food, I will gain weight” which can be reframed to “No single food will make me gain weight”

In cognitive behavioral therapy for eating disorders, we learn to recognize these problematic thought patterns and to start reframing them and challenging them so that they may become more helpful. We also often incorporate mindfulness and acceptance strategies to not engage with unhelpful eating disorder thoughts and not act on them.


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