In recovery, we can’t just work on stopping the restrictive and disordered behaviors but we must also work on the thoughts and beliefs that are fuelling those behaviors in the first place.
“I can only be happy if I’m thin”
“People will judge me if I gain weight”
“Nobody will love me if I gain weight” and so on.
In today’s video, we will go through a simple process you can use to start rewiring those limiting beliefs and negative thoughts.
Why it’s important to work on your beliefs?
Everything starts with your mind. Even if you do certain disordered behaviors, like dieting and restricting, it’s very likely there are some disordered thoughts and beliefs that are driving those behaviors.
If you just remove the behaviors but you don’t eliminate those thoughts or beliefs then I think it’s only a matter of time and you will relapse and go back to restriction.
Because we don’t diet and restrict JUST to diet and restrict but we do it because we have some beliefs that say we should.
Beliefs like “I can only be happy if I’m thin”
Or “People will judge me if I gain weight”
Or “Nobody will love me if I gain weight”
These are just some of the beliefs that likely drive us to diet and restrict in the first place. So I hope you can see why working on those beliefs and rewiring them is very important so you don’t just fully recover but also sustain your recovery long term.
A simple process I love to use for this is to challenge and question your thoughts and then reframe them. It’s like an exercise for your mind and it will literally train your brain to see things from a more positive and helpful perspective.
Rewiring limiting beliefs
1. Write down the limiting belief
And here we already picked a limiting belief to work on: “Nobody will love me if I gain weight”
But you can try to do this with some other beliefs as well. If you struggle to find your own limiting beliefs you can start to pay attention to the times when you feel anxiety, fear, guilt, shame…and then ask yourself “What am I thinking, believing, or saying to myself right now?” And it’s very likely you will discover some negative thoughts or limiting beliefs behind those feelings.
2. Challenge the belief
And next, you have to start challenging the belief with questions or trying to find a more positive and helpful way to look at this.
For example here are some ways I would challenge this particular belief:
- Am I thinking in extremes? Because very often our eating disorder is really distorting the reality. We talk in extremes, using words like “everybody”, “nobody”, “always” or “never”…but on a closer look we may see that it’s not the reality. So in this example, saying things like “Nobody will love me if I gain weight” is really talking in extremes, it’s a distortion, and it’s not realistic. It’s likely you still have some people in your life who love you for who you are. I really love a quote from Byron Katie that says “Reality is kinder than our thoughts” and I think it’s very true in most cases. We often think of the worst-case scenarios but in reality, it’s not that extreme.
- Is this really true? Are there some people who would still love you when you gained weight? Maybe if you really think about it, your closest friends will still accept you as you are. Maybe your family loves you for who you are not for how you look like. Just because we think that we are not lovable if we gain weight doesn’t mean that other people must think the same way. And even if someone would reject you because of your weight gain then they are probably not worth your time and friendship anyway. So try to find all the different ways why this belief is not true.
- Is this helpful? Is it helpful to say to yourself that nobody will love you if your body changes? What is the purpose of this? Isn’t this mean? What could be more helpful? Maybe you can remind yourself that what other people think of you is not your problem to fix. If someone thinks negatively and is judgmental of others it’s THEIR issue, you don’t need to fix it for them. It’s their problem. And instead of focusing on the negative, you can focus on things that you CAN appreciate about yourself. Your weight is not the most interesting and valuable thing about you so find other good qualities in yourself that are more important. Like “I’m a good listened, I’m a good friend, I’m kind to others, I am smart, I’m resilient…” what other things you are good at that have nothing to do with your appearance or body weight or size? And start to focus on those things because that is way more helpful. The more you focus on something the more it grows in power. What you give more energy and attention to your brain rewires more of, so choose your focus wisely.
- What would I say to my friend? Maybe you would say something like “I love you for who you are and don’t care if your weight goes up or down, you are still the same person to me and your value doesn’t change” That certainty is a more compassionate and kind way to speak to someone. Even if you say it and don’t believe it at first then you have to know that rewiring happens with lots of repetition and consistency over time. So the more you practice speaking to yourself in a kind and compassionate way (like you would speak to a dear friend) the more natural and normal it starts to feel. So treat your body like you would treat a dear friend and this is how you can start to build a better and healthier relationship with your body and improve your body image.
- Who’s job it is to love me? Are you doing it? Do you love yourself? Because sometimes we want others to do something that we are not even willing to do. So I would say it’s first and foremost YOUR job to love yourself. If others love us it’s great and it certainly feels nice but it can’t be a requirement for us to treat ourselves kindly and to speak to ourselves with compassion and respect. Many people think that treating ourselves with compassion and kindness is something we can start doing once we start feeling better about ourselves. BUT it actually happens the other way around – we FIRST have to start treating ourselves with more compassion and kindness and THEN, over time, we start to feel better about ourselves.
And to start working on self-love I have a lengthy post about “9 Self-Love Practices” that can help.
And the last step is to reframe the old belief into a new, more helpful belief.
If the old belief was “Nobody will love me if I gain weight” then now, based on all the ways we challenged this belief I would reframe it as:
“I choose to love myself first and foremost and the most important people will love me for who I am and not how I look like. If someone has a problem with my body then they were never worth my time and energy anyway”
So take some time every day to do this exercise and start working on your thoughts and beliefs and then over time you will see your mindset changing to more positive, rational, and compassionate. And this in return will literally start to affect everything in your recovery as everything really starts with your mindset and thoughts.
If you want to learn more about recovery and how to do it step by step then please read my book “BrainwashED”
You can check out my recovery online courses HERE.
Or you can book a one-off coaching call with me HERE.