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How to Stop Taking Irrational Eating Thoughts Seriously

As a therapist trained in the 1980s, I was taught to take everything the client says with utmost seriousness. By validating clients thoughts and feelings and asking probing (hopefully, insight-generating) questions, I learned to do my job. But, somewhere along the way, I realized that everything that a client says does not merit equal weight and that sometimes both the client and I were better off if I was the gate-keeper who decided which thoughts and feelings warranted major discussion and which ones were so irrational that they didn’t deserve to be taken seriously.

Looking back on my own binge-eating days, I wish I’d had a therapist who could have helped me pick and choose which random thoughts that ran through my head and which feelings that drove my actions were worth paying attention to and which ones were just plain silly, as in too ridiculous to listen to. Among others, I told myself:

  • “Make sure to always clean your plate” (though my stomach ached and my body braced itself with every mouthful I took).
  • “Keep eating because the food tastes so good” (as if I would die on the spot if I stopped tasting whatever I was eating).
  • “Eat and you’ll feel less upset” (in spite of the fact that I always—without fail— resumed feeling upset when I was done eating and was then also upset about my mindless eating).
  • “I have to eat this” (like I was some powerless blob who didn’t know how to function and who was clueless how to make decisions in my own self-interest).

These are just a few of the gems I told myself for longer than I care to remember. I’m not putting myself down for listening to my irrational self-talk. Nor do I lack compassion for that poor self who didn’t manage her eating or her life very well. And I’m certainly not making fun of anyone who says these things to themselves. Rather, I’m trying to get you to understand that these are thoughts that have no gravitas, that are meaningless in terms of self-care, and that you really don’t want to be taking them any kind of seriously.

Serious thoughts are ones such as “I think I’ll go for a walk rather than sit in the house and mope,” “I’ll take my kids to the park rather than for ice cream just so I can have some,” and “I really want to make a difference in this world, so I’ll see if I can volunteer somewhere that could use my help.” Serious thoughts derive from reasoning and show positive, life-enhancing and life-affirming intent. They’re not whimsical, impulse-driven nonsense that passes through your mind with no interest in your long-term welfare.

Silly thoughts like the ones bulleted above do not deserve to be listened to and taken as truth. They’re not based on rationality or evidence. They’re not meant to be taken seriously. Say them aloud and notice how utterly ridiculous they sound and how you feel acting as if they have something critical to tell you. Next time you have a nonsensical eating thought, refuse to take it seriously. Stop and shake your head that such balderdash is trying to pass itself off as something worthwhile listening to. You know better. You really do.   

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