Three Steps to Overcoming Disordered Thoughts – Part 3

So far we have covered aspects of Disordered Eating and Disordered Body Image. But what can you do if you have those thoughts, feelings, or actions?  

Step One: Learn to Love Yourself

Let’s play pretend for a moment. Imagine that you can separate your inner-self and your body. We will define your inner-self as your thoughts, emotions, and any non-physical senses that you have. Your body will be defined as the actual physical vessel that you live in.  

Now let’s take it one step forward. Imagine for a moment that we are not talking about your inner-self and your body. Pretend instead that it is your inner-self and a friend. But this friend has been making you angry lately. She helps you with many of your projects, and you really couldn’t live without her, but she annoys you constantly. If you simply yell at her about all the things you dislike, how do you think she will react? Will she fight back? Will she be saddened and hurt?

Not to get too philosophical, but your body is your friend. And if you don’t appreciate, love, and care for it, it will never do what you want.

When you start to get angry at your body, take a moment and remember all that it does for you everyday. (Refer back to the Disordered Body Image Blog). Thank your body as you would thank a friend who was helping you. Actually feel the gratitude, and remember that you would not exist, or be able to do the things that you love, if it were not for your body.

Step Two: Separate the Disordered Thoughts

We have identified what disordered eating and disordered body image look like. The next step is to become aware of when those thoughts are occurring.

There is a book that changed my life when I was struggling with an eating disorder. It’s called, “Life Without Ed” by Jenni Schaefer. The author does an incredible job of describing how she separated her Eating Disorder (Ed) from herself. She would have whole conversations between herself and her eating disorder. This allowed her to take back control of her life.

I used to write out my conversations between Ed and myself. It would look something like this:

Ed: “Sarah, look at yourself in the mirror! Check out all that fat around your legs and arms! You are not allowed to eat anything when you go out with your friends tonight. You are a worthless, disgusting person. And you will not amount to anything until you are skinny.”

Me: “That’s a truly awful thing to say. I don’t look fat. I look healthy, strong, and beautiful. I am more than a little ‘fat’ around my arms and legs. And I deserve to have fun with my friends.”

When you are having disordered thoughts, identify them. Then argue back using facts and logic.

Here’s another way to think about it: Would you ever tell a friend that they are disgusting and worthless because they are not the skinniest/fittest/most beautiful person in the room?

I once did an experiment on myself. I looked at a woman that I cared about and thought was extremely beautiful and fit. Then I imagined that I was that woman. I was living in her body. Immediately, I started picking out things I wanted to change on her/my body. I started thinking that she/I was fat and ugly. As soon as I took myself out of her body, I once again felt that she was beautiful.

Why are we so hard on ourselves and yet kind to others? Don’t we deserve the same respect and love?

Step Three: Educate Yourself

I don’t believe that I truly recovered from my eating disorder until quite recently. Why? Because I now finally understand and have a much wider knowledge of health and fitness. This knowledge is nowhere near complete (I have SO much more to learn!), but what I do understand is that we are in control of our health and fitness. (To a certain extent of course. We cannot control all disease and injuries that come our way.)

I think that a large part of disordered thinking comes from a lack of understanding. For example, before I knew better, I would see an article come up on my Facebook newsfeed titled, “5 Things You Should Never Eat if You Want to be Skinny.” The article would consist of a range of foods from diet soda to carrots and bananas. What?! I can’t eat carrots or bananas?! And diet pop has the word diet in it! How is that unhealthy?!

Anxiety would ensue. The next time I ate a carrot I would experience intense thoughts of hatred and disgust for my body.

Later I would be around a group of friends and someone would tell me that they “read somewhere” that carrots increase your metabolism and help you lose weight.

What?! Ahhh! What should I eat?!

Similar things would happen when it came to exercise. In the course of one day, I could read that cardio was the only way to lose weight, and that you should avoid cardio at all costs if you wanted to drop a few pounds.

This type of confusion and anxiety only fueled my disordered thoughts.

One day I looked in the mirror and thought, “I don’t hate my body. I’ve learned through recovery to love and respect what it can do. But I would like to tone my arms, legs, and abs. I wish there was a way to do that without starving myself, becoming obsessed, or overexercising. There has got to be a way to do that right?”

Here is where the good news comes in.

There is a way to do that. In fact, there are many different ways, you simply have to find what works best for you and your body.

How exactly?

I wish I could give you a quick answer. I wish that there was some “trick.” However, if there was a quick fix to fitness, I wouldn’t have a job. The truth is that you need to educate yourself on health, fitness, and nutrition. But not from Facebook posts or what a friend tells you at a cocktail party.

Here are a few things you can do to learn more:

  • Read books and articles on nutrition and fitness. Make sure these are coming from an accredited source with scientific research to back them up. However, also realize that there are multiple studies that will show X and Y help you lose weight and X and Y make you gain weight. Take everything with a grain of salt, and the more you read, the more you will understand and be able to craft your own opinions. (List of books I have read are listed at the bottom.)
  • Start some form of a strength program with specific goals. Learning how to move your body in the way that it was designed to move and seeing your strength improve will boost your confidence and knowledge. (And it will most likely increase your metabolism and help you look/feel better!) If you have never worked with a strength coach before, I highly recommend hiring one or going to a gym that incorporates programmed strength training (Like Rebell Strength and Conditioning!). It is an investment of a lifetime, but unfortunately, it’s not something you can just do on your own.
  • Treat your body like a big experiment. High protein might work for Bob, but Sally thrives on high carb and low fat. I once took two months and tried a different diet every couple of weeks. I’d read a book about high protein and try that for a while. Then I’d read a book about the 80/10/10 lifestyle and try that. Through this experiment, I found a balance that works best for me and my body. The key here is to not become overly emotional with your results. Realize that it is an experiment. Something will work, you just have to try a variety in order to find the right fit. (Like getting the perfect pair of shoes!)
  • Realize that there is nothing that is 100% bad/good for you. Everything in moderation is OK. Quinoa is full of protein and nutrients, but if you eat 1000 calories of it everyday, it may not be great.  

Final Thoughts

I will not claim that after reading this you will be “cured” of disordered thoughts. On the contrary, you may be just beginning your journey to a healthy relationship with your body. Nevertheless, I hope that I have provided you with a starting point and the knowledge that you are not alone. We have all experienced these thoughts and feelings to a certain degree. My hope is that we can all encourage and support each other on our path to loving ourselves and our bodies.

Here is a list of books that have helped me on my journey:

  • “Life Without Ed” Jenni Schaefer
  • “Can You Go?” Dan John
  • “Starting Strength” Mark Rippetoe
  • “Burn the Fat Feed the Muscle” Tom Venuto
  • “The 80/10/10 Diet” Dr. Douglas N Graham
  • “The China Study” T. Colin Campbell, PhD and Thomas M. Campbell II
  • “Strength Training for Fat Loss” Nick Tumminello
  • “Intervention” Dan John
  • “Finding Ultra” Rich Roll

Here is a list of documentaries that have helped me better understand nutrition (all on Netflix):

  • “Forks Over Knives”
  • “Cowspiracy”
  • “Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead”
  • “Vegucated”

More thoughts or questions? Reach out!

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