Eating Disorders: The Thoughts – Feelings – Behaviours Link
In exploring Eating Disorders: The Thoughts – Feelings – Behaviours Link, we must first understand the underlying trigger that leads an individual to binge or restrict rather than listen to the natural cues of hunger and fullness in the first place.
Eating Disorders are a pattern of thoughts, emotions and behaviours that are borne of a combination of stressful life events and a confused default process of thought that simultaneously generates great self-doubt; a strong tendency to presume the worst; and a chronic sense of being critically observed at all times.
Recovery from eating disorders of any kind requires the development of a new default thought process based on reason which builds self-trust, an openness to looking for solutions, and a sense of peace that one is in the process of becoming the best that they can be, and the confidence that they are equal to the task.
Recovery from binge eating, anorexia, bulimia etc. also requires a simple guide for how to relate to food in a natural, relaxed and trusting way.
These 2 pieces of the eating disorder recovery puzzle, when taught simultaneously, create a strong positive synergy that leads the individual to naturally step away from their extreme and limited thinking and stressful behaviours and towards this more reasoned, simple, satisfying way of thinking and relating to food.
Thoughts trigger emotions and then emotions trigger actions – also known as behaviours. Our action /behaviour gives us sensory data which triggers another thought which triggers another emotion which again, leads to a behavioural response. And this is the experience of human life in a nutshell.
What makes a life a happy and fulfilling one is a combination of actual life events and our experience of them.
Our experience of these events is comprised of a combination of the actual event that has happened/is happening and our interpretation of it.
Ultimately the interpretation or perspective or spin we put on an event has the most to do with what we feel and therefore with how we will react. We must therefore have a way of having reasonable confidence that our perspective is that of reality and not of what anyone else, including our own mind, says/has said about what has happened.
An Example of The Thoughts-Feelings-Behaviours Link
Let’s say my new friend Melanie is 20 minutes late to meet me for coffee.
Unless she has texted or called or in some way given me a message to indicate why she is late and when she will arrive, any speculation about that is purely that – speculation.
And yet, depending on how I feel about meeting up with Melanie today, how I’m feeling today in general, and what else is going on in my world, I could have any of the following reactions:
1. I could tell myself that Melanie is rude and inconsiderate and that I deserve friends who have at least got the courtesy to call if they’ll be late. This would trigger feelings of irritation and anger. Which could trigger the behavioural response of me getting up and leaving or perhaps just sitting there, stewing about her dismissive behaviour and planning what I’ll say when she walks in.
2. I could tell myself something may have come up, who knows why she isn’t there – she’ll likely reach out when she can – maybe I’ll call her later this afternoon if she doesn’t make it and see what’s up. In the meantime I’ll just sit here and enjoy my latte and reading my BBC newsfeed. If she makes it great, if she doesn’t I’m still happy. I feel confident and happy and I engage in the behaviour of reading and sipping.
3. I could tell myself that something must have happened and that she is in trouble – something is wrong. This will trigger anxiety /worry and tension and I will respond behaviourally by trying to text or call her; by tapping my foot, biting my nail, sighing heavily, maybe even pacing. Or my behavioural response might be to sit tight – probably still tapping the foot, bobbing the leg, fiddling with the thread on my skirt, and cycle around into another thought that perhaps she’s not coming because of something I said or did? Or did I get the day or time wrong – or the place??? Is she mad at me?? My emotional response will be an escalation of anxiety and tension and my behavioural response might be to leave ….
You get the point? I don’t know any more about her lateness in scenario one than I do in two or three. And yet, my emotional state and my subsequent behaviours very greatly depending on my interpretation of events.
What is the Reality of the Situation: Not Just What I Think is True
Let’s say my friend got the location wrong and has been waiting on the next block for the same 20 minutes.
Depending on my automatic default thought process I might just laugh and ask who’s walking to meet whom,
I might get defensive, thinking she’s going to make it about me getting it wrong.
I might feel hurt because this scenario triggers thoughts of mistrust: If this person can’t be trusted to get a coffee shop right how can I rely on them in a relationship!!? Or I might feel hurt because it triggers stories of being unimportant or doomed to have stupid friends.
Or I might get angry because I wanted to have a nice long visit and now, because she screwed up on the location, we have half an hour to catch up. Maybe I’ll respond to this anger by telling her not to bother; by hanging up; by affecting a tone to my voice that ‘let’s her know’ that I’m not impressed; or maybe I’ll respond by suggesting we touch base before the coffee next time so we don’t lose out on precious time together.
A Possibilities Mindset is Key
Again, so many paths, so many possible interpretations / stories and so many possible emotional responses leading to a plethora of potential behavioural responses triggering more experiences (sensory data) which triggers more emotion and more behaviour etc.
If my default thought process leads me to assume that people are judging me; that I am unlovable or fundamentally flawed in some way; and/or that it is just a matter of time before I am rejected I am going to feel chronically anxious and insecure and I am going to desperately seize on whatever behaviour I can take to feel safe as quickly as possible.
Some people drink. Some people binge on carbs or sugar or fatty foods. Some people go for control – restricting ignoring the needs of their body in favour of the sense of empowerment they get from controlling their basic needs – regardless of the ultimate consequences. Whatever your poison, if you’re thinking in that extreme and limited way you’re going to need something to help you numb out to your brain and to your perception of present day reality.
The really sad thing is, almost all the time those worst case scenario stories of intentional rejection and ridicule are not the case at all and we are often walking through a world that, in this moment, could be exciting and fun and fulfilling and comfortable, and yes, safe, but instead, because of our thoughts in the moment we are feeling insecure, anxious and depressed and setting ourselves up for an even greater need to numb and soothe ourselves with our coping strategy of choice.
If you’re struggling with binging or restricting or weight loss or body image stress, or drinking too much or drugs, or spending too much time on the internet or watching T.V. , or you can’t seem to stick to that new exercise plan or that back room is still a pigsty even though you swore you’d tackle it last year….if any of this sounds like you or someone you know then it’s safe to say they’ve got a dose of this confused thinking triggering emotions triggering behaviours thing.
The more extreme and intense the behaviour the more intense and frequent the confused thinking.
Tackle the confused thinking and the behaviour naturally changes.
Don’t Allow Yourself to Tell Stories
Stop telling yourself Melanie meant to stand you up or that you said something to upset her or that you got the place wrong and instead remind yourself of the reality – you don’t have a clue.
Either reach out to her and find out or let it go and let it sort itself out. That’s rational and reasonable and mature and functional. Anything else is a pathway to stress and tension and a diminished experience of life.
Stop telling yourself that you are unlovable because your stomach has a bulge, or even a full blown roll or two or three and instead ask yourself to be real with yourself about whether you are only open to loving people with perfectly flat stomaches or cellulite free legs.
There is no rational thought in a double standard so either you dump everyone from your life who isn’t naturally an airbrushed perfect 10 or you hold yourself to a more reasonable standard.
Stop telling yourself that you must be flawed because you can’t make a relationship work, or even find one for that matter. And instead be open to looking at what your part in creating a healthy relationship is, do your work to have confidence that you can be and do that, and look for someone who is capable of and willing to do the same.
If you can hear this. If you can take these thoughts into your mind, but the tension and doubt and pain inside you doesn’t shift that only means that your confused thought pattern just kicked in again and told you another story about what’s going to happen if you let go of your current expectations for your body or let go of the story that you are a flawed human unworthy of love and acceptance.
Ask yourself – What am I telling myself will happen if I try this rational, reasonable thinking stuff?
Are you doomed to fail so you may as well not bother trying?
Will it take too much time and maybe not even work anyway?
Is it too good to be true?
Whatever you’re telling yourself. It too is just a story, and frankly you deserve a lot better than to live your life inside a doom and gloom story.
If you agree, come and join me and learn how to shift your thinking and watch how everything else in your life naturally shifts for the better. And no you won’t blow up like a balloon or spend the rest of your life in therapy. See how trixy those thoughts are. You deserve better.
Send me an email any time: firstname.lastname@example.org