Breaking Up With Binge Eating

My Brain Is A Liar (But It's Ok, So Is Yours)

April 04, 2021 Georgie Fear and Maryclaire Brescia
Breaking Up With Binge Eating
My Brain Is A Liar (But It's Ok, So Is Yours)
Chapters
Breaking Up With Binge Eating
My Brain Is A Liar (But It's Ok, So Is Yours)
Apr 04, 2021
Georgie Fear and Maryclaire Brescia

Cognitive distortions are part of the “launch sequence” you could say, leading up to binge or emotional eating.  The idea of eating a lot of food isn’t itself compelling, but it’s these sabotaging thoughts - which are kind of like little lies - that nudge you into doing it by saying that it’s a good idea, that it will help you feel better, that it will give you the rest and comfort you need and that you deserve it. That you’re going to fail at being healthy anyway so why bother trying?
When we improve these thought patterns to remove the distortions, the idea of binge eating or emotionally eating isn’t as attractive, it’s more like an idea you can just pass on. So let's uncover the truth behind the natural phenomenon of cognitive distortion. 

Show Notes Transcript

Cognitive distortions are part of the “launch sequence” you could say, leading up to binge or emotional eating.  The idea of eating a lot of food isn’t itself compelling, but it’s these sabotaging thoughts - which are kind of like little lies - that nudge you into doing it by saying that it’s a good idea, that it will help you feel better, that it will give you the rest and comfort you need and that you deserve it. That you’re going to fail at being healthy anyway so why bother trying?
When we improve these thought patterns to remove the distortions, the idea of binge eating or emotionally eating isn’t as attractive, it’s more like an idea you can just pass on. So let's uncover the truth behind the natural phenomenon of cognitive distortion. 

This lump of goo between my ears has been with me a long time. And one thing I learned about it is, it’s not always right. I don’t mean to make it sound like I’m at war with my brain, or that it’s faulty - it’s not that at all. I love my brain, but I recognize it’s not perfect. It’s not always right. 

I’ll be blunt, your brain isn’t perfect either. So we’re in this boat together. For better or worse, the brain you have is the brain you’re going to have for the rest of your life, so let’s make the partnership work as smoothly as it can. 

Your brain produces thoughts. What we don’t want to do is assume that your thoughts are always correct or factual. It’s a healthy, necessary skill to be able to look at your own thinking and think critically. Just like you might read a headline on the internet, but want to check if it’s really true. The headline might say, “Woman on safari swallowed by giraffe”. And you might read that and think “Holy Snot, who knew giraffes could eat humans!, that poor woman! Does travelers' insurance cover being eaten by a giraffe? I’ve always wanted to go to Africa, but not if there are human eating giraffes. Plus, lions, and hyenas, okay I’m scratching Africa from my places to travel.”

All that, and you could miss out on some amazing travel memories, just because you believed a headline. Giraffes, of course, don’t eat people. They are herbivores and eat leaves, twigs and other plants matter. They especially eat acacia leaves, and in zoos, they also tend to get some carrots and hay to round out their diets. 

How do I know this? I looked it up. The evidence says, giraffes are not people eaters, so I can assume the headline is not true, at least, not at face value. Maybe there was some weird scenario that the author twisted into the story of a person being swallowed by a giraffe, like a giraffe swallowed a woman’s ring or something and they are spinning into a more dramatic headline to get clicks. 

Your brain isn’t interested in getting clicks, but… it is quite capable of taking a tiny bit of information and spinning it into a big story. Or, creating a story out of no evidence at all by the magic of jumping to conclusions. 

Someone fell asleep in the lecture I gave, my talk must have been terrible. 
That guy didn’t call me back after the first date. I’m not pretty enough. 
I have a headache, it’s brain cancer. 

These three thoughts are all examples of thoughts that might come out of your brain, which aren’t necessarily true. The reality is college students fall asleep in class all the time (because they stay up late and generally are under-rested, it doesn’t mean anything about the quality of my lecture). There are dozens of reasons a person might not want to date another, assuming it’s that it’s appearance-related is completely baseless. And assuming you have brain cancer just because your head hurts is a big leap, when it’s easily related to being dehydrated, looking at a screen too long, or even clenching your teeth. 

Sometimes, of course, our brain is correct and pretty accurate. If you are out for a hike, and you come upon a frozen lake, and it says “the ice looks thin, let’s stay on the shore and not walk on it”. That’s not biased or exaggerated, it’s actually not a good idea to walk on thin ice. Your brain is keeping you safe. Good job, brain! 

But if your thoughts sound more like, “My friends will probably want to walk on it, and then I’ll look like a wuss. I should just stay silent and see what they say. Hopefully they won’t want to venture out. But I don’t want to walk on the ice and they will, and then I’ll feel like a loser and they won’t like me anymore. They’ll tell everyone I’m no fun and not worth being friends with. Georgie ruins another hike.” 

These thoughts include name-calling or labeling “wuss, loser, jerk” etc. These thoughts include fortune-telling, declaring what other people will do and say as if I know the future, when none of that has happened and might not happen. I also threw in something called personalization, which is blaming yourself for something you weren’t entirely responsible for.  Did you catch that? If someone doesn’t have fun on our hike, it’s my fault. 

Labeling, fortune-telling, and personalization are 3 types of cognitive distortion. When we think in these ways as a habit, it can lead to spending more of our time upset, nervous, anxious, and depressed. Distorted thoughts can squash our glimmers of hope and self-belief, and create phantoms of doom and gloom, bad luck and imaginary faults which follow us around.

The good news: all of this is fixable. I’m going to take several episodes to go through several types of cognitive distortions, so we can practice spotting them and then the good part, how to shift them into more true, helpful thoughts.

I know some people out there are thinking, what do cognitive distortions have to do with emotional eating or binge eating, Georgie?

They have everything to do with emotional and binge eating. Here’s how they are involved:

First, cognitive distortions typically play a starring role in connecting the urge to binge eat or emotional eat to the choice to begin actually doing it. Distorted thoughts are part of the “launch sequence” you could say.  The idea of eating a lot of food isn’t itself compelling, but it’s sabotaging thoughts - which are kind of like little lies - that nudge you into doing it by saying that it’s a good idea, that it will help you feel better, that it will give you the rest and comfort you need and that you deserve it. That you’re going to fail at being healthy anyway so why bother trying? 

When we improve these thought patterns to remove the distortions, the idea of binge eating or emotionally eating isn’t as attractive, it’s more like an idea you can just pass on. Imagine what that would be like for a second. How amazing would it be to be able to say “Yeah, I could, but I don’t feel like it.” when the idea of raiding the pantry pops up? Just as easy as saying “Yeah we could get Chinese food tonight, but I don’t really feel like it.” Not a struggle, it’s just appealing so not hard to resist. 

Second, aside from linking food urges to action, cognitive distortions increase the intensity of negative emotions. Instead of feeling disappointed by for a few minutes after a friend cancelled plans, and then going back to normal, distorted thinking can lead to us spending the entire day under the covers, deeply demoralized. Of course, intense emotional suffering is directly linked to binge eating and emotional eating, but it’s also harmful because it costs us confidence, hope, and the motivation to get out and try things and meet people. When much of our lives is filled with worry, shame or guilt, it’s hard to live in line with our values. We spend so much of our energy trying to cope with and comfort ourselves from the pain, that we can’t proactively include more meaningful things in our lives or take the best care of our health. 

Changing unhelpful thought patterns into more adaptive habits is something I work with almost every client on. It might be one of the most life-changing transformations they experience. Because it lets people change their eating habits, and get out of the way of their own happiness. 

This week, I’d like you to listen to your own thoughts and specifically, to look out for two things: Fortune-telling and mind-reading. Fortune telling is arbitrarily predicting that things will turn out badly, and then believing that as an established fact. Mind reading is assuming you know what someone else is thinking without bothering to check.

I’ll give you a bunch of examples so you know what these might sound like. 

“No one will like me.” You might catch this fortune-telling thought when you get invited to a party, and where does it get you? Well, the first effect is that your mood goes down. you either go to the party, but since you’ve predicted that you will be rejected by everyone there, you feel awkward and don’t want to engage in much conversation. You gravitate to the bowl of M&Ms, and avoid eye contact with everyone, eating and eating until the bowl is empty.

Or, as a result of thinking “no one will like me”, and the immediate lower mood you experience, you decline the invitation. It’s easy enough to come up with an excuse of why you can’t go, and spend the night at home with the cat watching Downton Abbey. You try not to think about the party, but every hour or so you remember you friends are all there, you wonder what they’re doing, and you feel like a loser for staying home.

The thought that started it all, “no one will like me” is classic fortune-telling.
“I’ll make a fool of myself” is another.

On to mind-reading. This can sound like “They think I’m stupid”, “He’s disappointed in me”, “She doesn’t want to be friends anymore.” If someone has said, “I don’t like you”, then it’s not mind reading to think “she doesn’t like me.” But just because someone is quieter than usual, avoids eye contact, or seems in a hurry to go, none of those things mean “I don’t like you”.

Do what you can to notice if you’re fortune-telling or mind reading this week. If you can, write down any examples you notice. Don’t worry about changing the thoughts, just notice if these are patterns you engage in regularly. We’ll talk in the next episode about what you can do to shift them.

If you find the show helpful please help it reach more people by leaving a rating or review. And if there’s a topic you could use a hand with, drop me an email at [email protected] I’m Georgie Fear and I’ll see you in the next episode.