In one day I had three sessions focused on disregulated eaters judging themselves as bad for having thoughts they believed they shouldn’t have which then led to a binge. I don’t think I realized just how common this problem is until that day. If you judge your thoughts, it’s time to understand why you do and stop this destructive behavior.

News bulletin: We’re allowed to have any darned kinds of thoughts we want. You may have learned that you must be pure of mind, but that’s nonsense. Your thoughts are private and personal, and having a wide range helps strengthen your authentic self—not the self you think you should have. Though they may cause you to feel discomfort, thoughts are neither good nor bad, but may be positive or negative, beneficial or harmful. And, to a large extent—surprise!— they’re under your control.

For example, say you’ve had an argument with your teenage son who then peels out of the driveway, worrying you about how dangerously he drives. You might think, “Gee, I hope he gets into a minor fender bender and that will teach him a lesson.” Of course, immediately after that, you’re horrified, berating yourself for wishing anything less than a perfect, healthy life for this boy you love. Or maybe you’re at your weekly obligatory visit to grandma who whines constantly about the pettiest inconveniences and you think about how much easier and pleasant your life will be when she dies. Once this thought registers, you feel like a terrible person for having had it. But, hey, it’s just a thought.

Truth is that if any harm came to grandma or your son you’d be anything but happy. Your passing thoughts were reactions to how you were feeling—angry and afraid for your son in his car and frustrated with grandma’s chronic carping. You wouldn’t purposely go out and sabotage your teen’s car to cause an accident nor murder your grandmother. These deeds would be truly heinous. Note the crossing of lines between having thoughts and acting on them.

If you’re critical and judgmental of what you perceive as your “bad” thoughts, you likely learned (wrongly) in childhood that you shouldn’t have them. Maybe your parents acted as if they never harbored unkind or untoward contemplations or told you they knew what you were thinking and you were bad for it. Stop pressuring yourself to always think well of or kindly toward people. Your thoughts and feelings are how you figure out how to behave. Let them roam freely without censure and remember that you are not your thoughts. As you accept this fact, you’ll have one less trigger to binge eat.