I see this all the time with my clients and with people I am close to in my personal life. I’ve even caught myself doing it. We talk negatively to ourselves. Take this situation for example. It’s Saturday morning and it’s cold and drizzly out. I had planned to go for a run this morning, but the bed feels SO nice. I tell myself that I deserve to rest and that the weather isn’t that great, so I stay in bed. Later that day I attend a birthday party at 2:00. I planned to eat a gluten-free healthy lunch before going and not give in to peer pressure to eat all of the unhealthy options offered at the party. Well, I was busy chatting with my mom and didn’t eat lunch, so now I’m STARVING. I filled my plate with tons of yummy high calorie foods that are definitely NOT healthy. I also have a few mimosas. Then I go back and stand at the table picking the icing off the cake. And eat a few more chips. And have several pieces of chocolate. Okay, now I feel sick. “Why do I always do this? I never have any self control! I can’t believe they didn’t have anything healthy at this party…how am I supposed to stick to my plan? I’m such a loser for sleeping in this morning and missing my run! I might as well eat what ever I want for the rest of the day, because I already screwed up.” Does any of this sound familiar? Well, there is a scientific name for it: Cognitive Distortions, or irrational beliefs. And this negative self-talk can sabotage your weight loss by driving you to spin bad habits out of control.
There are 10 types of distortions. I think we have all heard or used one of these.
1. All-or-nothing: Looking at things in black and white terms
2. Overgeneralization: Viewing a negative event as a continual pattern of defeat
3. Mental filter: Dwelling on the negatives and ignoring the positives
4. Discounting the positives: Believing that accomplishments or positive qualities are meaningless
5. Jumping to conclusions: a. Mind reading – assuming that people are reacting negatively with no basis in reality; b. Fortune telling – erroneously predicting that things will turn out badly
6. Magnification or minimization: Blowing negative things out of proportion or diminishing positive things
7. Emotional reasoning: Reasoning from how one feels: “I feel like a failure, so I must really be one,” or “I don’t feel I can succeed so I won’t try.”
8. “Should” statements: Demanding that oneself or other people “should” or “shouldn’t” “must,” “ought to,” or have to be different
9. Labeling: Calling oneself names. Instead of saying “I made an error,” telling oneself “I’m a loser” or “stupid” or a “failure.”
10. Personalization and blame: Blaming oneself or others inappropriately
Source: Burns, D. (1980) Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy. New York: William Morrow. ~ACE Health Coach Manual
If you catch yourself in any of these, STOP and regroup. Ask yourself a few questions:
- What is the evidence for and against thinking that…?
- What would I tell a friend in this same situation who was thinking what I am?
- What is the worst that could realistically happen? How bad would that be?
- Would it really be 100% bad? Would it be the worst thing that could happen?
- Is it really true that I must, should, ought to, have to…?
- Are there any other possible explanations besides blaming myself?
- Is there any other conceivable way to look at this positively?
Once you’ve answered these questions, you should see that it is not as bad as you think and make it easier to move on from your mistakes. Usually one bad day or one slip up will not cause a catastrophe as long as you are able to get over it and get back on track. Use these errors as a learning experience. Write down a plan for what you will do next time these situations arise. For example, tell yourself that you can have your favorite breakfast or a cup of coffee with a friend if you complete your run first. Brush your teeth and put on lipstick before the party so you won’t be as tempted to eat the goodies.
I hope this helps and you can always call me if you need more tips on sticking to your plan.