• We can all be caught out by negative self-talk, and often this can stop us from forming a healthy relationship with food

  • Harriet Frew encourages you to put these 7 common thinking traps to the test by showing yourself some self-compassion

  • If you are looking for a therapist, you can find one here

New Year’s resolutions were pledged a few weeks gone – healthier, cleaner and fitter for 2016! January has to be the coldest, darkest and bleakest month for embarking on life-changing self-improvement, particularly when it comes to changing eating habits. Unsurprisingly, your motivation may be waning, as stodgy comfort food seems infinitely more appealing than green vegetables.

Without even knowing it, faulty thinking could be sabotaging your bravest efforts to transform your eating.

With 60,000+ thoughts plus per day running through your mind and many being repetitive, you can see the power of your thoughts to potentially affect your mood and behaviour.

Negative thoughts often evoke intense emotional reactions such as anxiety, upset or overwhelm, these then having a profound impact on your actions. Unwittingly, you can be catapulted back into patterns of emotional eating, restrictive or over-eating as a consequence of negative thinking.

7 thinking traps and how to change them

1. All or nothing thinking 

‘I’m perfectly in control of my eating’ or ‘I’ve failed and am eating everything in sight’.  

When you judge your eating in ‘all or nothing’ terms, the rules are often overly strict and therefore unsustainable. Many people can follow an eating plan for a few days or weeks. Beyond this, you will likely crack and rebel against the rigidity of your expectations.

Instead: Be more flexible in your thinking whilst being kind and compassionate towards yourself. Genuinely permit yourself to eat a range of foods without judgement.

 ‘I don’t need to overeat as I can have this food whenever I want it’.

2. 'Shoulds'

‘I should never eat this food’.

Some people need to genuinely eliminate foods from their diet for health reasons and it is also true that certain foods will enhance your mood and energy levels. However, militant ‘shoulds’ can feel suppressive and bring on feelings of deprivation. If you have a long list of foods you are forbidden to eat, you might well think, yearn and dream about them more. You may also be more inclined to rebel against your ‘shoulds’ and gorge on the banned food.

Instead: You can still eat very healthily whilst allowing in a range of foods.

‘Allowing myself to eat and enjoy this cake, prevents me feeling deprived and helps me to stick to my healthy eating goals’.

3. Fortune telling  

‘I have no control around cheese’.

When you think you have no control around a specific food, you have almost set yourself on the dangerous path where your predictions can become truths. You will likely feel a slave to the food in front of you and helpless to change the outcome.

Instead: Believe you have control of your eating and collect evidence of this through experimentation. Introduce the dangerous food in a planned and safe way. Sit down at a table, really savouring and tasting the food. After eating, distract yourself and be super kind in your self-talk. Every time you exert control in this way, it is a little victory to help build self-confidence.

‘I can be in control around food’.

4. Surrendering

‘I always fail at my healthy eating so what’s the point of starting again’.

This kind of thinking saps all motivation and renders you powerless. Hence, you may surrender to your goals and raid the biscuit tin.

Instead: Be your own number one cheerleader. Whatever has just happened put this behind you and see yourself as persistent and resilient as you continue onwards.

‘I learn from my slip ups in the process of change’.

5. Discounting the positive

‘So what if I’ve lost 2 pounds, there is so much further to go’.

When you discount the positive, you don’t see the mountains you have already climbed, instead focusing on what seems like ‘the Everest’ ahead.

Instead: Recognise every little step and mini victory along the way.

‘Every day I am making progress towards my goals’.

6. Labelling

'I’m a greedy pig for eating the cake’.

Unkind thoughts will absolutely affect your mood and motivation. Failing to show yourself respect can likely lead you to become more self-punishing.

Instead: Talk to yourself in a kind and courteous manner. Avoid using discouraging names or labels.

‘I am resourceful and resilient as I learn from my mistakes’.

7. Wishful thinking

'If only I was thinner then people would love me more’.

You put life on hold until you reach that magic weight. You fantasise that life will change when you ‘arrive’ and acceptance will finally be yours. This is a myth. Weight loss might certainly bring some benefits but it rarely boosts self-esteem in the way you hope for.

Instead:  Live today as if you were already at the weight you long for.

‘I accept myself completely today’.

The first step to changing your thinking is through developing awareness. Decide today to become conscious of your thoughts and to be open and questioning of them. This is the starting point of change and potentially changing your eating habits for the long-term.

Further reading

Finally finding peace with food

Shame, guilt, and your relationship with food

Brain food: eating for a healthy mind-gut relationship

7 ways to reduce food waste