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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Jan Shepherd What's Eating You? 5 Food-Thought Patterns and Their Effect


For most of my life, I was paralyzed by fear and anxiety. Fear of failure, fear of making mistakes and fear of expressing what I really felt and thought. So instead of participating in life, I built up and then hid behind 200 extra pounds. And to make certain I stayed stuck, I denied myself the permission to enjoy learning.

I thought I had to know the subject perfectly even before I studied it. As a consequence, the simple and natural act of learning (as well as anything to do with performance) created a state of almost constant anxiety and an inclination to say no to life. It wasn't until I discovered that it was my thinking that required a major overhaul that I was able to truly begin my journey of getting to my normal weight and staying there.

For me, it was finding what worked and what didn't. It was learning that my ego was what was fragile, not me. And it was my beliefs that were holding me back, not my mistakes or failures. If I believed that I was capable, mistakes would just be a blip on my radar and I would be much more likely to take risks. The breakthrough came when I found out that I could use positive beliefs to move forward on my path just as I had used distorted thinking to get me into and perpetuate my addictive cycle of yo-yo dieting.

There were two highly destructive distorted thinking patterns that drove me. The first was "polarized thinking" -- thinking things are black or white or good or bad. The idea that you have to be perfect or you're a failure. It is a place, unlike reality, with no middle ground. Once I switched that type of thinking, I knew I wouldn't collapse if I ate a cookie and one cookie wouldn't lead to me eating the whole bag. Any ol' set-back did not make a journey, it was just a step.

The second distorted pattern was "emotional reasoning" or believing that whatever you feel must be true. If you feel stupid and boring, then you must be stupid and boring. I kept believing I was inadequate even though I could converse with the smartest folks in the room, so I often just shut up. I don't know if that was because I was afraid of making a mistake or appearing foolish or both. I do know that I would then go home and stuff my face with food creating a 200 pound mistake by using that distorted thinking strategy. A very well known, highly successful friend of mine has a sign in her office that reads "Make A New Mistake Everyday." I can now take a deep breath and allow myself that luxury. And instead of weighing 350 I weigh 135.

The bottom line is that it's not only what you eat that is the cause of obesity, it's what's eating you and that change is only possible when we approach our lives and "problems" from many levels. Yes, I made wise food choices. But making wise thought choices has made it much easier for me to make wise food choices.

While this blog details two that were significant for me, there are many different types of distorted thinking patterns and limiting beliefs that keep people stuck whether or not they are struggling with eating disorders. I'd be happy to send you the complete list ( which was given to me 12 years ago by Dr. Charles Portney, a well respected eating disorders psychiatrist. For now, here are five additional patterns. Are any of them keeping you stuck?

Filtering: Taking the negative details and magnifying them while filtering out all the positive aspects of a situation.

Personalization: Thinking everything people do or say is some kind of reaction to you.

Control Fallacies: Feeling externally controlled, seeing yourself as helpless.

Blaming: Holding yourself or others responsible for every problem.

Shoulds: Having a list of ironclad rules about how you and other people should act. People who break the rules anger you and you feel guilty if you violate them.

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