A Guide to Recovery
25th Anniversary Edition
by Lindsey Hall and Leigh Cohn
Excerpt from Bulimia: A Guide to Recovery 25th Anniversary Edition
If you tend to think of the cup as "half empty" instead of "half full," fill it up! Although positive thinking doesn't change the circumstances, it does change how you approach them. Your mind is a filter for every thought, word, and action. Approach the present moment from a positive perspective, and you are likely to react with compassion, expect good things to happen, look for solutions, even see lessons in misfortune. Since the way you view the world is reflected back to you, and you can consciously choose your approach to life, make yours more positive.
In the process of "cleaning up" my mind, I spent (and continue to spend) time practicing mindful awareness of my thinking. My goal was to separate what was going on in my head, which was often fearful and negative, from what I truly believed in my heart or what I wanted to believe. What I discovered was that most of the time, my mind was on automatic pilot. (My mind had a mind of its own!) I was a worrier who needed to be on the alert because bad things were right around the corner.
Until I started my recovery, I took it for granted that there was nothing I could do about these thoughts. Not only was I unaware that my mind was filled with negativity, but I also avoided the reasons why, such as: my upbringing, cultural pressures to look a certain way, guilt from bingeing and purging, as well as the important fact that my brain was malnourished from years of bulimia. But once I began to eat more normally and take an objective look at my attitude, I discovered that my mind could be a friend if I put it to good use, but it would remain an enemy if I left it to react on its own. So, trying not to judge what I uncovered, I explored my negative thinking patterns and worked to change them. Here are a few examples that may resonate with you:
Negative Thinking Patterns
- General negativity
Expecting the worst. You instinctively have a pessimistic outlook about situations, relationships, the future, and the world at large.
- Seeing everything as black or white
Judging based on extremes. Food becomes good or bad; weight gain equals obesity. You repeatedly look in the full-length mirror but never like what you see.
- Magnifying the negatives
Filtering out the positives, and letting only the negatives through. Minor problems are seen as catastrophes and offhand comments get blown out of proportion. If you see an increase on the scale, the day is ruined. If someone disagrees with an opinion, you think they hate you.
- Taking everything personally
Thinking that the world revolves around you. You feel guilty over matters that often have nothing to do with you, or feel that people are judging you, or that the world is against you.
- The "shoulds"
Having rigid rules about how you and others should act. This would manifest in thoughts such as as, "Anger should not be expressed," or "I should not eat salad dressing."
Using excuses to justify being stuck. If you eat "one bite too many," you give in to the urge to binge. You think that bingeing is an okay way to find comfort when faced with something difficult.
- Critical self-judgment
Thinking you are not good enough. You are your own worst critic, thinking about yourself in harsh terms no outside observer would ever use. Thoughts about yourself are so dark and insulting that you would never voice them for someone else to hear.
Changing Your Mind
If you make a conscious effort to fight these habitual patterns, you can change how you experience everything. Begin by focusing on recovery and make that your highest priority. When you have "bulimic thoughts," recognize, examine, and rephrase them in terms of recovery. For example, if you think, "I want to binge," notice that thought and change it to, "It's more important to me to not binge," or "I don't need to binge in this moment—I can take care of myself another way." Then, imagine what steps you could take next that are not part of the old chain of events.
Transforming your thoughts from negative to positive has powerful consequences. If you instinctively think, "I'm not worthy," and change that thought to "I am worthy," the result is pretty dramatic—you feel more worthy! Even if you have to "fake it till you make it," repeating positive statements that you might not even believe will help them manifest in your life. Filling your mind with thoughts of gratitude is far more uplifting than feeling resentful or dissatisfied. Expressing compassion for the pain that surely drove you to bulimia will ease the guilt and shame. Believing that you are learning the right lesson at the right time can free you from doubt. Plus, this "mental housecleaning" has the added benefit of silencing your inner critic and making it possible for you to hear the voice of your inner self more clearly.
How you think has the power to change your life. Here are some activities to help you in this pursuit of positive thinking:
Activities for Changing Your Mind
- Stop thinking of yourself as "bulimic." You're "recovering from bulimia."
- Set the intention to think more positively, and continuously remind yourself of that goal.
- Make lists of short, medium, and longterm goals.
- Observe negative thoughts with nonattachment. Take note of the ideas, but let them pass without having a mental conversation.
- Choose your words carefully so that you consciously speak positively and with optimism.
- Counter negative thoughts by reframing them with positives.
- Say "do" instead of "don't," "will" instead of "won't," and "can" instead of "can't."
- Pat yourself on the back for large and small accomplishments.
Repeating positive affirmations is a great way to reprogram the mind. Make the conscious effort to articulate at least one positive statement over and over throughout each day. Say it aloud, if possible, as many times as you can: in front of a mirror first thing in the morning, while you get dressed, as you open and close doors, while you drive in a car, sit at a desk, hug a friend, make dinner. When you catch yourself in negative self-talk, stop it with a positive affirmation.
While it might be hard at first, and even feel dishonest to verbalize phrases that you don't yet believe, repeating them does have a transforming effect on your mind and mood. Eventually, you will turn a corner and begin to believe them, and in yourself. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
Examples of Positive Affirmations
- I love myself.
- I am great!
- I deserve good things.
- My weight has nothing to do with my worth.
- I have a good heart.
- Every day, in every way, I'm getting better and better.
- The universe supports me.
- My body is a temple.
- I am enthusiastic and confident.
- People like me just the way I am.
- I am thankful for the lessons of recovery.
- I honor my individuality.
I know that I should try a new way of thinking because the old hasn't worked.
My bulimia was a symptom of very poor self-esteem, feelings of guilt, and helplessness. Through therapy I learned how to treat myself with respect, control my own emotions, and use frequent affirmations, which have turned my world around.
I used to feel like I was on automatic pilot. I let my thoughts dictate my life.
Now, I dictate what I think!
I like to imagine a paper shredder in my mind where I destroy all the negative thoughts.
Although recovery was the most difficult challenge of my life, I can now experience the beautiful things that I couldn't from the inside of a toilet bowl, like the smell of leaves, butterflies, wild flowers, and how it feels to love myself and others.