Roughly 50% of girls ages 6-12 worry about their size, shape, and/or weight. Research shows that worry continues into adulthood (Smolak 2011). We know now that men aren’t far behind, with almost as many men affected by disordered eating behaviors as women (Mond et al., 2014). Over time, these worries when coupled with societal expectations, family and personal values, personality characteristics, genetics, trauma, and many other factors, can develop into disordered eating or an eating disorder. Once you recognize you may be affected by disordered eating thoughts, what’s next?
A therapist trained in treating eating disorders can help you navigate your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Many people find it helpful to learn to separate disordered eating (unhelpful) thoughts from helpful thoughts. This process will look different for everyone considering the complexity and factors that may play into your personal eating habits and patterns. If you are struggling with separating disordered eating thoughts from helpful thoughts, try viewing your thoughts as coming from different parts of you. As in, the unhelpful thoughts are coming from a part of you, but not all of you. You have access to healthier, wiser parts of yourself. Sometimes getting the thoughts down on paper and seeing the separation makes it easier to understand.
Try writing down an unhelpful thought and using your wise self to have a conversation in order to access healthier, more helpful thoughts. And no, you’re not crazy for talking to yourself! It can look something like this:
Unhelpful thought (UT): You can skip lunch, you ate too much breakfast.
Helpful thought (Me): No, I need lunch. My goals are to eat consistently to help me have energy for my meeting later today.
UT: You’ll be fine. Besides, your goals are to look better in that T-shirt you’re wearing.
Me: What I care about the most is being present in my life, and that means eating an adequate lunch right now so I can be present later. I am going to choose to eat lunch.
Separating yourself from disordered eating thoughts can help you take action toward your wellness and recovery goals and serve as a tool to help increase awareness of what really matters to you.
I further explore this idea as well as other ideas related to eating disorder recovery in episode 83 of the podcast Eating Disorders: Navigating Recovery. Listen here.
The ideas expressed in this article were gathered from personal experience, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), and Internal Family Systems (IFS). For more on information on parts work, I recommend reading No Bad Parts: Healing Trauma and Restoring Wholeness with the Internal Family Systems Model by Richard Schwartz.
Emily Walton, LAC is passionate about caring for individuals struggling with eating disorders, disordered eating, and body image concerns. Please reach out to schedule an appointment with her when you're ready to start healing!
Mond, J.M., Mitchison, D., & Hay, P. (2014) “Prevalence and implications of eating disordered behavior in men” in Cohn, L., Lemberg, R. (2014) Current Findings on Males with Eating Disorders. Philadelphia, PA: Routledge.
Smolak, L. (2011). Body image development in childhood. In T. Cash & L. Smolak (Eds.), Body Image: A Handbook of Science, Practice, and Prevention (2nd ed.).New York: Guilford.