3 thinking traps that hinder your relationship with food

Standing at the cupboard door, you happily devour two tasty chocolate biscuits from the tin. They are the perfect balance of crisp and crumbly biscuit, with a thick layer of milk chocolate, and a surge of pleasure and satisfaction sweeps through your body. 


But before you know it, the tin is bare and the remaining few have been consumed in quick succession. The enjoyment factor dissipated rapidly as the tin was emptied. You’re having dinner in 40 minutes and feel frustrated and annoyed, berating yourself for a lack of willpower.  But before you do this, it might be worth considering that your thoughts about your eating may be holding you back. Thoughts are only thoughts, but they can hold significant power. 

With 60,000 thoughts per day floating through your mind, and many being repetitive, it’s worth becoming more conscious of thoughts. Developing awareness of your thoughts can empower you to have a greater influence on your behaviours and your emotions around food.

Identifying a negative relationship with food

Here are some types of thoughts to look out for: -

1. All or nothing thinking

All or nothing thinking is often a natural consequence of following diets. You’re either on the diet and being ‘good’ or you’ve fallen off the wagon and are ‘failing’. When you judge yourself from this harsh and dichotomous perspective, then your interpretation of an eating episode can be catastrophically devastating and out of proportion. The resulting anxiety and overwhelm can lead to further eating, as a reaction and you end up eating much more than planned.

Instead, work towards a kinder and more realistic interpretation of your eating. You are not a failure for eating a couple of biscuits. Enjoy these biscuits and offer yourself kindness and compassion with your words. Once you’ve mindfully eaten the number to satisfy yourself, put the tin away and refuse to engage with the black and white judgement that is certain to derail you. 

2. Mind reading

This is when you assume that others are negatively judging your eating or your body. The self-critical dialogue flows dangerously through your mind, as you imagine the thought bubbles floating above people’s heads. These thoughts are not compassionate or supportive; rather berating and hostile, leaving you feeling ashamed and wrong. 

These thoughts are often your own inner critic projecting your thoughts onto others. You’re hard on yourself, so you assume that others must be too. These thoughts are dangerous as they lead to secretive eating, isolation and withdrawal. Instead, acknowledge that you are unconsciously being your own worst enemy here. Other people do not care, nearly as much as you think they do. 

The person across the way is probably considering what that they might have for dinner or the unfinished chore that was left at home. And anyone that does comment on your eating may well be struggling with their own issues with food, this provoking an unhealthy interest in your eating. So stay in your own lane and give yourself permission to eat. You deserve food as much as the next person. Notice if you are being your own worst enemy and remind yourself that others really do not care.

3. Labelling

You call yourself, ‘lazy, greedy and a disappointment’; these being the milder end of the daily expletives that flow through your mind. The cruel labels that you bestow upon yourself, leave you feeling worthless and sad, and they regularly appear in your thoughts when you break a food rule or judge your poor body. The labels don’t help or motivate, rather they disempower and deflate you.

Instead, commit to self-kindness and self-compassion. No-one deserves to hear these insults and this degree of self-judgement. Again, they can lead you to self-punishing behaviours with food and they destroy all self-worth to the core, both hindering and holding you back.

Work to become aware of your thoughts.  It can take time to develop an awareness of your thinking and to begin to change this. You might wish to seek help through counselling to support you in this process. But working on your thoughts and mindset can be a valuable investment to your well-being. 

This article was written by Harriet Frew.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Cambridge, CB1
Written by Harriet Frew, MSc; MBACP Accred
Cambridge, CB1

Harriet is a counsellor, writer and trainer working in eating disorders.
Instagram: @the_eating_disorder_therapist; Podcast - The Eating Disorder Therapist

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