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  • Writer's pictureKatie Dunnigan

Eating Disorder Thought Patterns: Breaking Free From The Mind

Updated: Feb 17

“Being is like the sun; it cannot be extinguished. It shines brightly even in the darkest places.” -Rupert Spira

Our minds are very powerful. They contain thoughts, opinions, beliefs, desires, judgements, conditioned rules, and defence mechanisms that develop into mental health symptoms. When we become attached to the content of our minds, we lose ourselves to it, which creates suffering and makes healing difficult. Breaking free from our mind involves coming back to our Self or our Being. As part of awareness work in mindfulness therapy and transpersonal therapy, we start by exploring both the conscious and unconscious thoughts driving eating disorder patterns. We start to get curious about what is really going on inside our heads. We begin to notice the stories, dialogues, or fears that contribute to our problems. Here are some common narratives that I hear from clients with eating disorders such as binge eating disorder, bulimia, anorexia, and orthorexia…

Eating Disorder Thought Patterns and Beliefs:

o I don’t feel very smart or talented, but at least I can be skinny

o My eating disorder is a subtle form of punishing my family for how I was treated as a child

o I like how people look at me – shocked, scared, angry. It makes me feel unique and special

o I feel strong when my body looks a certain way – people believe I have immense willpower

o I get great pleasure from food and I never want to say no to myself or feel deprived

o I feel so worthless inside. I deserve to be punished so I withhold food or purge

o Food is my friend and I get a lot of comfort being locked away alone with it

o Being skinny is an outward sign of success and confidence

o I can’t trust myself or life, so controlling my body feels like the next best option

o My entire identity is built around how I look and I don’t want to lose that

o I like to have my cake and eat it too, literally. I can eat whatever I want and still portray the image of a perfect body

o I don’t know how to express my emotions but my eating disorder helps me show people that I am deeply suffering inside

o I don’t want to grow up and be responsible. It feels safer to stay small and helpless

o I like to be sick because other people give me attention

o As long as I control everything, including my body and mind, I will be okay

o If I didn’t have my eating disorder, I would be so bored. What would I do with all that free time?

o I eat because I don’t want to face myself or my problems

o I would rather die than be fat. Changes to my body terrify me

o People with perfect bodies live better lives. There is nothing more important than image

Becoming conscious of the thoughts and beliefs related to an eating disorder is one of the many steps towards healing. But it isn’t enough to simply know what we think. We also have to open a deeper present-moment awareness, come off of auto-pilot, and foster the inner resources necessary to make changes. Below are some of the other steps we take in transpersonal therapy and mindfulness therapy to heal from an eating disorder…

How To Heal From Eating Disorder Thought Patterns:

1. Quiet the mind – we break free from our thoughts and beliefs by practicing inner silence. Quieting the mind slows our thoughts over time so we aren’t so ingrained in our beliefs or controlled by our minds. Inner silence creates a space where we can allow thoughts to come and go without reacting to them. This dissolves unhealthy patterns and eliminates the need to “reframe” our thoughts with willpower or positive thinking.

2. Observe our thoughts – spending time in curious self-observation allows our unconscious thoughts and beliefs to surface. It opens a deeper type of awareness and we begin to see the dynamics contributing to our patterns. It also creates separation between our thoughts and who we really are, which allows for self-compassion, honesty, non-judgement, patience, and trust to emerge. Observing our minds supports the process of self-reflection and introspection that is necessary for healing.

3. Cultivate a sense of self – in order to heal ourselves, we first must know ourselves. This isn’t about creating a new self-concept (who we “want” to be or who we think we “should” be), but rather allowing our authentic self to emerge. We begin to experience a felt sense of who we are in inner silence. This is why people who distract themselves constantly struggle to know themselves. Having a strong sense of self means that we have a reliable connection to come back to in times of stress or emotional difficulties. Rather than abandoning ourselves to food or other patterns, we can move into a state of present awareness.

4. Stay with our emotions – eating disorders are strongly connected to patterns of avoidance. When we try to control, manipulate, or distract from our emotions, we become stuck. The feelings build-up over time and emerge as symptoms. Part of healing is slowing down and allowing our emotions to come up without becoming consumed or overwhelmed by them. When we face our feelings, we regain control over our lives and begin to see more options.

5. Connect to our true values – when we quiet our minds and connect to who we are deep inside, we begin to free ourselves from our conditioning and connect to our true values. We start to get a sense of what is really important to us and how we want to live our lives. We also let go of what is no longer working, including unhealthy eating patterns or beliefs about our bodies.

6. Strengthen intuition – since we cannot trust the content of our minds, we need to develop a deeper resource to rely on to guide our life. Intuition can be described as our inner voice or our internal compass. It is a natural part of our being that is strengthened through inner silence and is always in our best interest. It allows us to step out of our desires and make choices based on what is best for us in the present moment. Intuition is meant to be used in all areas of our lives, not just in relation to eating and food. It prevents us from abandoning or sabotaging ourselves, and instead helps us live life according to our real values.

7. Accept and work with the present – allowing life to flow, trusting in our intuition, and letting go of control are big part of healing from an eating disorder. When we accept and work with the present moment rather than resisting what is happening, it gives us the freedom to make choices. Resistance involves creating a story in our minds about how we think things “should” be, which creates an internal battle and keeps us stuck in emotions. When we accept and work with, we have more control over inner states and our eating disorder symptoms begin to disappear because they are no longer needed.

Healing from an eating disorder is a process that requires consistency, commitment, and trust. While there are ups and downs, it is possible to free yourself and live the life you truly deserve. If you have questions about how I guide people back to their true self, please contact me for a free phone consult.

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