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Eating Disorders: Stop Negative Thoughts


Eating disorders cause people to have unhealthy thoughts and behaviors about food and their bodies. With an eating disorder, how much you weigh and how you look have a severe effect on how you feel and think about yourself—and how you think others view you.

If you think you might have an eating disorder, talk with a doctor. Eating disorders can cause serious health problems and even death. Treatment includes counseling and sometimes medicines. Some people need treatment in a hospital or eating disorders clinic.

Negative thoughts

Negative thoughts are part of having an eating disorder. Changing negative thought patterns may not be easy. But our minds can be trained to be stronger and healthier—just like a muscle. A technique called thought reframing can help.

Thought reframing is the process of replacing negative thoughts with more helpful thoughts. It's a skill taught in a type of counseling called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). There are also books and apps that can help you learn thought reframing on your own.

With practice, you can get better at choosing healthier thoughts to replace negative thoughts.

How can you use thought reframing when you have an eating disorder?

Negative thoughts can be hard to silence. While nobody can stop all their negative thoughts, you can reduce them. And you can start choosing healthier patterns of thinking. Here are some tips to get started.

  • Watch for common types of discouraging thoughts.

    When you know some of the common types, it's easier to spot them when they happen. Here are a few to watch out for.

    • Weighting the negative. This means giving more importance to something negative than to something positive. For example, you may see a relapse as proof that you can't get better rather than seeing the time before it as proof that you are getting better.
    • All-or-nothing thinking. This is also called black-or-white thinking. For example, you may think about foods as either "good" or "bad," with no options in between.
    • Filtering. Your view of yourself may not be accurate when it's "filtered" through the lens of an eating disorder. For example, people with body dysmorphia often see "flaws" on their bodies where there are none.
  • Practice reframing your thoughts.
    • Notice the thought. Negative thoughts can pop up sometimes before you can stop them. But learning to recognize them can help you shift them.
    • Question the thought. Ask yourself whether it's helpful, kind, or true. Consider whether someone who cares about you would agree.
    • Replace the thought. Ask yourself "What's something that's true and more helpful?" Use your answer to replace the discouraging thought. Here's an example:
      • You might first think "I'm weak because I ate a big breakfast this morning. I don't deserve to eat lunch."
      • You can replace the thought with: "My body needs fuel to stay healthy. Eating regular meals is a way to take good care of myself."
  • Use a thought diary.

    Write down negative thoughts throughout the day. Then rewrite them to be more encouraging. Over time, choosing more positive thoughts in the moment will get easier.


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