Dysfunctional eating includes making repeated unhealthy food choices, eating too much or too little for your body’s needs, and ritual behaviors associated with food. Psychologists have identified different types of distorted thinking that contribute to dysfunctional eating as well. To overcome dysfunctional eating, these distortions must be reframed into healthy, balanced thoughts.
When a doctor treats someone with dysfunctional eating, they look at the underlying causes of the problem. Dysfunctional eating isn’t only about weight or body image.
Disordered thoughts like these block people from normal eating patterns:
- All-or-nothing thinking
Dysfunctional eating patterns are based on the thought that food and weight are black and white issues. For example, you might consider yourself fat if you are a pound or two over your goal weight.
Another distorted thought is the overgeneralization of negative situations. You might believe they can never eat healthy because you tried a diet in the past and didn’t stick with it.
- Mental filter
A distorted mental filter causes you to see yourself unrealistically, through a filter of your own insecurities. Thinking that all jeans make you look fat is disordered thought.
- Disqualifying the positive
For people who disqualify the positive, nothing is ever good enough. If someone tells you that you look nice, you may respond by saying, “I’m so fat” or “I’m too skinny.”
- Jumping to conclusions
Assuming that you know what someone else thinks of you and that their thoughts are negative is a sign of jumping to conclusions. You might assume everyone thinks you eat too much because your coworkers saw you eating ice cream or a donut.
- Magnification and minimization
This thought is distorted in two ways. First, a person overdramatizes their faults, thinking they look worse than they do. Secondly, they think that most people who look like them feel the same way, diminishing their problem and a need for change.
- Emotional reasoning
Emotional reasoning allows emotions to cloud thinking. If you feel fat, you think you must be fat.
- Should statements
Should statements come from external input? When you think you should or shouldn’t eat something or look a certain way, you have internalized other’s opinions.
- Labeling and mislabeling
When food choices and actions are labeled and mislabeled, you think you are bad because you ate something sweet or think you are worthless because you gained weight.
Personalization involves taking the blame for how others see you. If someone says you’re not eating the “right” foods, you blame yourself and feel shame that you don’t live up to someone else’s standards.
How to Manage Distorted Thoughts
By reframing your thinking, you can manage your distorted thoughts and break dysfunctional eating patterns. Research shows that these techniques will help you change your thinking:
- Label and Defuse Your Thoughts
First, label your thoughts as part of dysfunctional eating, not as a truth. Remind yourself that it is only a thought, not reality. Then defuse the thought by not letting it bully you. You do not have to believe every thought you have about food and eating.
- Challenge the Thought
Instead of thinking that eating a slice of pizza will cause you to gain five pounds, a challenge that thought with facts. A single slice of pizza will not result in a five-pound gain. Don’t let your emotions overcome your judgment.
- Make a Coping Card
Many people experience the same distorted thoughts over and over. Make a coping card and write down your distorted thought on one side and why it’s not true on the other. This gives you a quick reference when you are stressed and something to use as a review and as an affirmation every day.
- Disobey Your Distorted Thoughts
When you’re recovering from dysfunctional eating patterns, old thoughts can still enter your mind. If your brain is telling you to skip breakfast because you need to lose weight, disobey this thought, and have healthy, low-calorie breakfast instead.
- Check Your Predictions
Too often, people predict the worst. When your predictions about eating are distorted, you assume things that aren’t true. If you think eating out with your friends will destroy your healthy eating plan, find a restaurant that offers healthy foods and portions. Don’t let your predictions keep you from finding healthy solutions.
Distorted thinking affects how you manage food and eating choices. Understanding your distorted thoughts and reframing your thinking can help you overcome dysfunctional eating.