Have you ever thought about how powerful your self-talk is and how quickly it 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, depressive or shaming self-talk? For most overeaters, the answer is quite often.
When the majority of our self-talk is 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, judgmental, self-defeating thoughts, we feel bad—frustrated, overwhelmed, anxious, depressed, ashamed, hopeless or powerless. These unpleasant emotions, generated by our negative self-talk, can quickly lead to an exaggerated desire for comfort and distraction. We may even actually feel physically hungry.
Lauren, a forty-two year old physician, 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 self-talk:
“You shouldn’t have asked him about his marriage! You blew it!” “You’re such an idiot. When will you ever learn?” “You’ll never find a life-partner.”
As she reflected further, more critical self-talk:
“I’m just not young enough, thin enough or attractive enough to attract the kind of man I want.”
“I’ve never been good at dating.”
“I’ll always be alone.”
Lauren 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, the storm in her brain was finally quiet. And the agitation in her body was gone. The frustration and hopelessness of the date with Ed was, for now, a forgotten memory.
No doubt, food is a soothing, comforting and pleasurable distraction. But the food won’t help Lauren improve her self-talk or learn to think more positively about herself and her life. Nor will the food offer her the hope she yearns for.
A better way for Lauren to take care of herself is to begin to address her negative self-talk and her pattern of recycling self-defeating, black–and-white thinking. The truth is, Lauren 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 even true that she isn’t good at dating—in fact, dating in the past has resulted in a couple of long-term relationships. She just doesn’t enjoy the process of dating. And truthfully, not many of us do.
By recycling more self-affirming thoughts Lauren 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.
Lauren worked on improving her self-talk by replacing her self-defeating thoughts with more self-affirming, 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 don’t need to be younger, thinner or more attractive to find a partner. I am fine just the way I am. I just need to practice accepting and loving myself as is. Self love is very attractive.
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 getting to know someone. If I’m not so attached to the outcome and I see dating as a way to learn about myself and others and to build skill, it makes it more worthwhile.”
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.
Lauren began to notice that not only did she feel better by catching and reframing her self-defeating thoughts, but she was turning to food less often when she felt upset.
You too can begin to reduce your overeating, or use of other distractions, and feel better in this moment by taking the time to observe your self-talk and to catch and reframe 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 Lauren and they started dating. So far, so good!
Posted by Julie M Simon, MA, MBA, MFT, psychotherapist and life coach, certified personal trainer, founder and director of The 12 Week Emotional Eating Recovery Program and author of The Emotional Eater’s Repair Manual and When Food Is Comfort. If you have a question or topic you’d like to see addressed in this blog, go to https://overeatingrecovery.com.
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