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Identifying Beliefs

Thanks, readers, for your comments which often give me ideas to blog about. In fact, a question came up recently about how to identify beliefs and prompted me to write this blog, so keep those comments coming! I also get ideas from two message boards I hope you’ll check out ( and

Beliefs, also called cognitions, are your assumptions, theories, ideas, values, attitudes, hypotheses about life and how you fit into it. They’re your operating instructions, just as your computer’s program is what guides it and makes it function. Beliefs are subjective, not objective, neither fact nor truth. Unlike the latter, beliefs can change. In fact, one of the unhealthiest beliefs you can have is that you’re stuck with your beliefs and that you can’t change them. That kind of thinking leads to rigid behavior which keeps you mentally and emotionally stunted and perceiving yourself as a victim of cruel life.

One way to discover your beliefs is to consider (better, yet, jot down) the chatter that natters through your head, such as I have to be thin, I can’t eat that, I have to eat that, I can’t tell anyone I’m bulimic because they’ll think I’m horrible, no one will love me fat, I’ll blow up like a balloon if I don’t diet or weigh myself every day, eating will make me fat, I have to eat healthy all the time, I’d rather be thin and unhealthy than fat and healthy, etc. When you slow down and listen carefully, beliefs are what you hear telling you what to do and not do. To discover your self-programming, you need to operate on two levels: one, going about your daily business, and two, tracking the thoughts that stream through your consciousness all day long.

Another way to identify your beliefs is to come up with topics and then write down what you think about them, also called free association. For instance, scribble a sentence about each of the following: fat, thin, food, weight, size, scales, sweets, body, attractive, lovable, thighs/stomach/hips/buttocks, fullness, hunger, satisfaction, cravings. You can take any subject and come up with what you think, then turn your thoughts into beliefs by putting them into a statement which starts with “I” or another noun followed by an action verb (see italicized examples above). Both the Rules of “Normal” Eating and The Food and Feelings Workbook have chapters on identifying beliefs.

Of course, knowing what you believe is only the beginning. The rest of the job is making sure that your beliefs are realistic, rational, healthy, and in your long-term best interest.