37: Ways to Work Through Problematic Self-Talk
Episode 8 in the Body Image Series on NMP is all about how to develop positive self-talk. So often, one negative thought leads to a cascade of choices and thoughts that lead us to a place of despair, discouragement and shame. Christy Maloney, RDN, LDN, CPT is a registered dietitian who works with people who are in recovery from an eating disorder and has tons of experience helping people work through negative self-talk. In this episode, 5 filters mental filters are discussed in detail helping you develop practical ways to work through problematic thinking.
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Paige: Hello everyone, welcome to another episode of Nutrition Matters Podcast. My name is Paige, your host and this is episode 37 of Nutrition Matters Podcast and episode 8 of the body image series. So, I think it’s incredibly important to talk about self-talk as it relates to body image. So, that’s what we’re going to be doing today with my guest. Let me introduce my guest with you today and we’ll get started. So, just a heads up, I have a lot of Christy’s coming in the line up. Today is no different. We have Christy Maloney who is a registered dietician that has a history of working in acute care, long term care, food service management, community health and outpatient and currently she is now a nutrition therapist for the RENFREW center in Charlotte, North Carolina. I was hoping I was saying that right, Christy.
Christy: Yeah, that’s correct.
Paige: She works with high level outpatient programs where she oversees meals, group therapy and individual nutrition sessions for patients and partial hospitalization program, or PHP. Christy has an undergraduate degree in Psychology followed by a degree in Human Nutrition. She did her dietetic internship with Winthrop University in South Carolina and two years ago, Christy became a certified personal trainer through NASM. Christy lives just outside of Charlotte, North Carolina with her husband, her nine month old daughter, Stella and her dog, Stu. So, Christy, welcome to Nutrition Matters!
Christy: Hi, Paige! Thank you so much for having me, I appreciate it.
Paige: Oh, I’m so glad. So, I had a whirlwind of people contacting me and I’m trying to remember. You contacted me saying, you’d love to be on, is that right? Am I remembering that right?
Christy: That is correct. I am a fan of the podcast and I had sent you a facebook message letting you know how much I enjoyed it and I let my patients know about your podcast because it’s really the message that we try to put out here at RENFREW Center and let you know if you needed any help, or if I could be of any help in any way that I’d be glad to join. So, I’m so glad you extended the invitation.
Paige: Well, I’m always looking for great guests, so I’m really glad and loving it when people will reach out like you did. So, thank you, Christy.
So, we talked about in your introduction that you have a really well rounded balanced experience in the world of nutrition, but you’re loving your current role in working with folks with eating disorders, is that right? Have you found your little niche?
Christy: I have found my niche. I believe, truly, this is home. With an undergraduate degree in Psychology and then in Nutrition it really just combines the two pieces. Because we know that often times with eating disorders anxiety and depression and other things can kind of come along with that so, it’s really a nice mirror of the two degrees and it’s really where I love and what I enjoy and where I hope to stay for a really long time.
Paige: Yeah, awesome. So, with that background, I was trying to think of something you and I could talk about that would be along your expertise and I really wanted to chat with you about how we can help the people that we work with and how we as community members and friends and family; how can we help each other develop the ability to talk positively in our own heads? This is a struggle. I don’t care who you are, right?
Christy: Absolutely! Absolutely it is, for sure.
Paige: Yeah, I’ve gone through times in my life where I’ve been not as kind and it makes a big difference in your quality of life and in your decisions and in your ability to succeed. So, I’m excited to have this conversation because it’s far reaching and meaningful within the world of nutrition and eating disorders and disordered eating and then also just, hopefully expanding it out to just in general; talking positively in our own heads. I’m excited that you have that dual background in Psychology and also in Nutrition to be able to marry those worlds as we talk about this.
Christy: Yeah! Absolutely
Paige: So, I thought we’d maybe start out with the Mindful Eating Manifesto from Dr. Susan Albers. So, let me just read this mindful eating manifesto and then we’ll kind of just go from there and talking about positive self talk. So, the Mindful Eating Manifesto, here it goes. Being nourished and well fed is critical to being your best. Focus, create, innovate, authentically create and simply be the most amazing you. The first step to healthy eating is to focus more on how you eat than what you eat. It’s perfectly okay to enjoy delicious food in a mindful way. When prepared well, healthy food is stunningly delicious, filling to the belly and exposes junk food as the highly processed, pumped with artificial fluff that it is. The comfort food brings is disappointingly fleeting, hunger can be deceptive. Mindfulness can help distinguish emotional from true physical hunger. Whether you eat, snack, munch, dine or take just one bite, always, always keep your mindful inner light switched on. So, sorry if I read that a little bit funny, this is an infographic where there’s different fonts and different colors
Christy: Yeah, I have the same one.
Paige: Oh, you have that one too?
Paige: It’s a little hard to read it in a flowing way. I just really like that. I thought that was really applicable to our discussion. So, tell me, what are your reactions to that. What do you like about it? Or not like about it?
Christy: When I think about being nourished and well fed as being your best, I think that’s 100% true. When I meet with clients that are not nourished they’re not at their best. They can’t think clearly. We know that carbohydrate intake impacts serotonin levels, which can link to depression and anxiety. They’ve kind of rerouted themselves and their neural pathways to be wired up for anxiety and not eating and that kind of thing. So, when I think about being nourished and well fed, the thing that I go do is my brain is well fed. I can think clearly. I have my personality as it truly is. I’m not a show of myself. I have a big life versus a small life that’s all about food. I was just talking about that today in a group. When you get so focused on food and your internal dialogue is,”What am I going to eat? I should eat, I shouldn't eat…” all those things, it makes your life very small. So, when I think about mindful eating it is to fuel your best life and to be your best self. “It’s okay to enjoy delicious food in a mindful way” … love that. Absolutely. I definitely come from all foods fit kind of standpoint. So, we don’t exclude cookies and cake just like we don’t exclude salad and steamed veggies. We need a little bit of everything to be mentally and physically well. I would say the one thing I maybe take slight issue with in this is saying that “healthy food is stunningly delicious, filling to the belly and exposes junk food is highly processed and pumped with artificial fluff.” I agree. Healthy food is delicious and filling to the belly, I love it. I think I really come of a place of “good food bad food” mentality; we don’t go there. I don’t think that’s really helpful for anybody. So, my concern is someone reading that thinking, “Oh, if I have a poptart then I’m eating something processed that’s awful” and I believe there’s room in life for poptarts. Outside of that, I really agree with the message here in terms of you want to distinguish emotional and physical hunger and you want to eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full and enjoy what you’re eating and use that to live your best life, which is, hopefully, the goal for everybody.
Paige: Yeah, I had that same sort of cringing reaction when I read that part. I wanted to read it in it’s entirety just because I think it’s important for us to talk about it, even if it’s a little bit negative. I think we can take that too far .I think we can take that idea of this isn’t nourishing or it’s the artificial fluff, or whatever it was that she said. I think we can take that and make that extreme and turn that into an issue. Actually, this correlates with what we’re talking about here today is your self talk.
Paige: So, I think what you mentioned about all foods can fit, even a poptart and I think I agree. I don’t think I agree, I DO agree. I just think that we need to talk about that and work on what we’re saying in our own head about ourselves. So, do you have any other ways to correlate that manifesto into this conversation here?
Christy: No, I think just what you’re saying if someone were to read that and have that impact self talk I think that can happen in a number of ways. You read the first sentence and it says be nourished and well fed. That can really lead to some really positive self talk. “I need to be nourished. I need to be well fed. I’m feeding my body the things I need to get through the day and to live my best life” I think what you hit on is that the flip side of that of this is junk food, this is processed, pumped artificial fluff then that leads to the negative self talk which can perpetuate eating disorders and disordered eating. If someone were to have a poptart and then think about how they ate “junk food” then that leads to the negative self talk in terms of hearing over and over, “I shouldn’t have done that. I screwed up. I’m such a bad person” leading into, “I’m never going to have the body I want, I’m never going to have the life I want. No one’s going to love me” and it just spirals and spirals out of control. It’s kind of eye opening that one line or one simple phrase, “ I eat junk food” can lead to, “I’m going to be alone forever, nobody loves me and my body’s terrible”, but that’s the way it goes. It really does.
Paige: Right. That’s so true. So, let’s talk about what self talk is. If someone’s never really thought about this or heard about this idea, let’s talk about what it is and what it isn’t.
Christy: Yeah. So, for me, I really define self talk as an inner dialogue. It’s that tape that’s playing in your head at all times. Just to have a specific definition and we can branch off on that. I looked it up at dictionary.com, what do they define self talk as. And then I’ll talk about how I apply that. So, their definition is “The act or practice of talking to oneself either aloud or silently and mentally” It’s a running tape. So, it can be aloud, it can be things you say out loud to yourself, but for our purposes I really think abou that mental tape, the mental messages that are constantly going through your head. The voice in your head. What you hear, what you think all the time definitely impacts your life, your ability to enjoy life, your ability to enjoy food, all those things. It’s spirals quickly, kind of like what we were talking about positive self talk and “I feel good today, I look good, things are going well for me, I feel really motivated today”, that’s positive self talk and that’s an example of how it can fuel you to do good and great things, but when we talk about negative self talk that’s going to be the one, “I had a poptart” and it spirals into, “Nobody’s going to love me because I had a poptart” and it just really drives the continued eating disorder/disordered eating cycle as it applies to that. I like that you can take ideas of things, parts of things that you like and can apply and be able to, with a critical eye really look at that and I like that.
Paige: Yeah. So, Christy, let’s talk about where does negative self talk come from? How does someone get into that example we’ve been talking about with, “I ate a poptart, so I’m a worthless human being”. How does somebody… that doesn’t just happen one day, how do we get there?
Christy: A lot of times, it’s societal messages that we get and a lot of times it’s messages we get from our family. We get struck with a lot of food rules early in life, the “I should eat this” “I shouldn’t eat that” “I’m “good” if I eat a grilled chicken salad, but I’m “bad” if I have chocolate cake” We really begin to apply that and I think the self talk really starts to happen especially negatively and around food when we begin to make food moral. That morality associated with food and the development of eating disorders can be very complicated. It can often times begin with trauma or bullying, body image kind of stuff, but either way we apply those messages we get, we apply our disordered relationship with food and that becomes internal dialogue in our head of “I’m good if I eat this, I’m bad if I eat this, I’m good if I don’t eat that” and it just becomes a way to control. So, if we stray away from our very strict rules and our small world eating habits, that’s when the negative self talk begins. “I’ve created these rules for myself, they’re very deep and ingrained and if I don’t do that, something bad is going to happen” So, the negative self talk kind of evolves from there. And keep in mind, there’s messages and thoughts can be formed over years. I agree with you that it doesn’t necessarily happen quickly, it takes some time, but when they are there, they are there and they are strong.
Paige: I’m thinking back in my life and I’m thinking about how negative self talk came up. I think a lot of my negative self talk came from coaches. If I’m really being honest I think a lot of times the negative tape playing in my mind was stuff I had heard coaches say to me because I was really competitive and really wanted to be the best and really wanted to perform the way that everybody expected me to.
Christy: Yeah! So taking the negative self talk and trying to make it propel you to be better.
Paige: Right, right. So, I wonder if that makes it difficult for someone who sees positive things coming out of it. What do you say about that?
Christy: I agree with that. I agree on the level of someone being a coach, a trusted adult so why in the world wouldn't you trust him. This negative dialogue they’re creating in my head makes sense to me. They’re a trusted coach, I need to do what they’re telling me, I need to be better so yeah, it does feel like it’s serving you in some way. I think any kind of negative self talk, especially as I’ve seen it in the world of eating disorders; people cling to that and feel like it’s making them feel better and without this [they] have no rules, [they] have no control. [They’re] sort of free falling, spiraling and [they’re] not going to be good enough for anybody or anything without this negative self talk that’s driving [them] to be better in some way.
Paige: Is it a lie that it helps you be better? I’m just wondering is that premise faulty in and of itself? Does it really help us be better to be negative in our heads?
Christy: I don’t think that it does because, I think with any sort of self talk, like we talked about with that self talk spiral that tends to happen. Eventually, it’s going to overpower you. Eventually, I don’t think there is going to be any positive coming out of it because eventually you’re just seeing so much negative. I think on some level it can appear to be a good thing at first, because if I’m a swimmer and I need to be faster and I think, “Gosh, I should practice another hour today because I need to be faster and better and stronger” yeah, it looks like it’s serving you, but then it turns to, “If I practice another hour today then maybe I can practice two more hours today, or three more hours today” and then you get the spiral, the self talk spiral and then the behavioral spiral where it’s no longer serving you. And it’s really hard to define where that spiral begins and put a break in that gray area.
Paige: So, you mentioned the negative self-talk spiral, that I think we’ve defined then you also mentioned a negative behavior spiral so, talk about what that might look like.
Christy: Yeah, so, that’s when the self-talk is pushing you to be better and pushing you to be better at whatever it is. It might be sports, it might even to be better at your eating disorder and then the behavior spirals out of control and suddenly in order to be better and feel better I have to one up myself. I have to do more today than I did yesterday and while that can sound okay on a surface when you apply it at especially eating disorders and disordered eating that begins to spiral into that heavily restrict or binge or purge or overexercise. The behavior spiral comes after that because the thoughts keep getting louder and bigger.
Paige: Yeah and I always talk about this with my eating disorder clients, one on one. Just the idea that sometimes you’re quieting down the eating disorder by giving in to what it’s telling you to do, whether it’s to restrict or to over exercise or the things you mentioned. But in reality that just makes it louder and louder. That just makes that thought in your brain have more power. Wouldn’t you agree?
Christy: Absolutely! When someone comes into treatment with me, I always tell them if your eating disorder isn’t screaming at you, then I’m not not poking the bear and doing my job because when someone has an eating disorder and they acquiesce to those thoughts and they’re doing what the eating disorder tells them to, I think they feel like they’re peaceful and in control, but in reality that’s when the extreme out of control is happening. That negative self-talk is propelling them further and further in their eating disorder. The behaviors become worse and worse. The way to get through that talk in your head of “I must restrict breakfast” or “I must run ‘x’ amount of hours today” or “I must purge after dinner” the way to get through that is to really challenge that eating disorder. At the RENFREW Center we talk about reappraising those thoughts. Beginning to think I’m seeing my thought pattern here and it’s negative and it’s not serving me, so how do I begin to look at this differently? How do I create a different pattern for myself?
Paige: Or even binging, or even that urge to binge.
Christy: Even that, any of the array of symptoms. You look at how do I change my thought process and do things differently now. And just being aware of that internal tape.
Paige: For sure, and to be aware that maybe that’s… actually we’ll talk about it, I’m getting ahead of myself here. So, that’s a good segway into battling it. So, I think the first step is probably recognizing what’s going on and recognizing and taking a non judgemental, like we talk about in this podcast just being curious about those thoughts and taking a bit of an inventory of total thoughts throughout the day and what is it on average? Are they positive? Are they self-defeating? Are they negative? Are they encouraging? Are they helpful? Just get an idea of where your thoughts are and if after doing and you notice that you are really really struggling with negativity and negative self-talk, let’s talk about some tactics for working through that. I think, first of all, it’s important for us to just say right out that it’s normal to struggle and part of negative self-talk might be a little bit helpful where it helps you look internally and maybe say, “Wow, I really do need to improve on that” or whatever, but if it gets out of balance and it’s just constant, just tearing yourself down and leading to, like you said, those behavior spirals then you know that you might need to take a look. So, any thoughts before we get into the meat of this?
Christy: Yes, so tactics on changing that, I really like what you said, taking a thoughts inventory. Really looking at how much, like you said, are my thoughts positive, how much are negative and then really thinking on, “So out of my hours of the day, out of my waking hours how much are my negative thoughts taking up my life? How small has my life gotten? And what has been excluded from my life due to these negative thoughts? What have I cut out? What’s gone away? How’s my life gotten smaller and been impacted?” I think when you identify that, one: you become more aware of your thoughts. You see where your thoughts are going. Just that awareness can begin to really work toward change. But then two: when you see what it’s taken away from you, how it’s impacting you, that becomes real motivation to change the way you’re talking to yourself, which then, of course, in turn changes the way you’re doing things in your actions.
Paige: Especially when you align that with what your values are and what you really want out of life. If you see what it’s taking away and you see what you really want it’s becomes a pretty clear equation.
Christy: Absolutely. And definitely if I see someone, I’ll just use an example of maybe someone in college that’s struggling with being at a low weight and with anorexia and having to drop out of college. We’ll talk about if [their] goal is to graduate from college and get a job and maybe [their] goal one day is to get married and have children, if [they] can’t be well enough to get through college, [their] not going to get the job you want. And if [they] can’t be well enough to function a relationship, [they’re] not going to find that partner [they] want in life and if [their] body isn’t well enough to carry a baby, if that’s a goal for [them], that’s another dream that’s taken away. So, then we really talk about, “Is that worth it to you?” That’s a question I ask my patients all the time when we identify this is what I had, these are my dreams and this is what it’s taken away from me, I just simply ask, is this worth it to you? And sometimes the sad part is in that moment it might still be because the negative self-talk is there. The eating disorder is still really loud, but often times you’ll see a shift where people will say, “I’m not willing to give that up anymore and I want to fight. I want to fight to change my thought patterns and my behaviors”.
Paige: Yeah, awesome! So, do you have a preference on where we start with ideas for battling negative self-talk? Or do you want me to just go through this little outline that we’ve generated?
Christy: Yeah, we’ll just go with the outline, that’d be great.
Paige: Okay! So, the first one I wanted to talk about was reality testing. So, go ahead and I’ll just let you elaborate on that one.
Christy: Yes, so reality testing is you’re looking at, “Is my thinking evidence based?” I really like to call that fact checking. So, if someone comes to me and they say, “Oh, goodness, I’ve gained ‘x’ amount of pounds and none of my clothes and my life is just out of control and I’m never going to find a relationship” we have the negative self-talk spiral going on. So, we want to step back to, “Alright, have you gained weight? Has anything physically changed? If it has physically changed, is that for the better? Is this the goal we’re working toward?” And at RENFREW we really talk about looking at reappraisals of thoughts. So, if I feel like I’ve gained weight and my life is out of control so reappraising that. Maybe I’m in weight restoration and I need to gain weight to be healthy. Really looking at the thought that is the negative component and maybe is the starting spiral and just asking yourself, is there another way I can look at this? Is there another reality that could possibly be the situation that isn’t this extreme negative to where I’ve taken it. Often times when I start looking at that then we can really identify the core; the original thought that started the spiral and we can begin to kind of attack that and think well this is where it started and how can I look at that thought differently. It’s not necessarily about pushing the thought away and saying, “No, that’s wrong, I shouldn’t be thinking that”, but it’s just, “The thought is here, this is what it lead to, is there another way that I could possibly see this? Is there another way to reappraise this and put myself on the positive self-talk path. Just simply put, looking at it that way. That kind of bounces into “Are my thoughts factual? Or are they just the interpretations? Is what I’m thinking is actual fact or is it fear based? Is it eating disorder based? Is it my eating disorder filter on my thought that’s spinning this negative self-talk out of control?” And jumping to negative conclusions. Thinking about am I jumping to, “Well, I feel this way, I feel a certain way that might not be the most positive? Have I taken it just to the extreme and how this is going to impact my life? And how do I recognize and deal with those distortions?” They’re probably not true, so you’re beginning to recognize the negative thought and stop it before it becomes a distortion. Before you’ve taken it so far that it’s not longer even a viable possibility.
Paige: I really liked what you said about how we’re not trying to push these thoughts away and say don’t ever have that thought. That’s a bad thought, don’t think about it because that’s just not necessarily reality and not really feasible.
Christy: And I think it perpetuates the negative self-talk cycle. If you think about, I had this thought, it’s bad, I shouldn’t think that; well then you’re caught in I’m a bad person for even having the thought. That sort of secondary reaction that sends you down that path. The more you try to push away the more feel like a bad person and the more you make it worse.
Paige: Well, and the more you try not to think about something, the more you do think about it, in reality.
Christy: Every time!
Paige: So, I think that’s an important distinction is that we’re not saying don’t ever think about negative things, but to frame it in a way that it’s kind of more like what do we pay attention to? Do we pay attention to every little thought? Or do we naturally have hundreds and thousands of thoughts every day that come in and out of our brain without much thought, right? So, I think it’s not necessarily getting rid of these thoughts, but you do decrease the volume of them by #1: not paying attention to them, and then #2: trying to start, maybe it’s like a positive mantra that you do. Maybe it’s reality testing like we’ve just been talking about, but it’s definitely not us saying, don’t ever think that. Because that’s just not what works.
Christy” No, that’s not going to work any time and I always talk about those thoughts are going to come. They will, the negative thoughts are going to come, hopefully, fewer and farther between, but they will and it’s more about what do you do with it? I had a negative thought am I going to let this impact me? Am I going to search for the reason I had that, the antecedent to the situation? Or am I going to let myself go down the negativity spiral and have a pity party for one and just get fully immersed in that negativity? The thoughts may come, but what are you going to do with it?
Paige: Yeah, for sure. Okay, so one idea is just simply testing the reality of the thought. So, good example is: you put on a pair of jeans and they’re a little bit tighter than usual and then you think, “Oh my gosh, I am getting so fat! None of my clothes fit. No one’s ever going to love me, blah blah blah.” on and on and on, right?
Christy: Right! That’s the spiral, yep!
Paige: So, what if before it goes anywhere past these jeans fitting a little bit tighter, what if you look at, “Okay, well, are these jeans a smaller pair of jeans than the ones I normally wear? Are these jeans, freshly out of the dryer? Are they just a little bit tighter because that is what it is? Is it really true that none of my clothes fit? Or what did I do last night? Did I eat a really big dinner? Do I just kind of feel a little bit bloated this morning? Am I about to start my period?” What is going on here? And I think testing the reality can stop that spiral from continuing onward and stopping it right in the beginning when it’s still in that innocent phase, is that a fair way of saying it?
Christy: I think so. I think so. I think that’s a common example. I think everyone’s had that experience of you put something on and it’s like, “Aww, that doesn't feel like remember.” And you go through the list, “What's going on here?” And I think I would even add to that list, “So, physically, did any of these things change?” But I also would look at the emotional aspect too. “Am I having a day where I just don’t feel as good about myself? Is there any cognitive distortions there? Do they actually fit tighter? So, I’ve looked through my physical stuff, if none of that remains to be true, then how am I feeling about myself today? Is there something going on that precedes this?” Just going there with the emotions because the emotions are going to cause a multitude of thoughts, a number of physical sensations in your body, pants feel tighter, that sort of stuff. So just really looking at that as well.
Paige: Here’s what I just thought of, Christy, is I think the key with this conversation about self-talk is recognizing when you do when you thought like “Wow these jeans don’t fit like they normally do”. Recognizing what it is and calling it what it is, which is definitely has the potential to lead you down a negative spiral and just assessing it at that point and recognizing that this is a thought that could send [you] off, what are [you] going to do about it? Because there’s nothing wrong with that thought. It might even be true that your jeans fit differently and maybe that’s good and maybe that’s not great, but, I think what happens for so many people is they get 5 to 10 to 15 thoughts down the line or behaviors down the line from that initial one and just have no idea how they got to where they are, right?
Christy: Right, exactly.
Paige: They’re sitting there eating an entire gallon of ice cream and they’re like, what is even going on? And if they trace it back they realize that morning they put on a pair of jeans that just didn’t fit like they normally do and there they are, you know? So, I think it’s important to identity if it in that infancy stage of the thought process.
Christy: And that’s definitely a learned skill and you have to really make it a priority and a point to focus on tracing it back. Where did this come from? So that you can really begin to detect when that comes up and stop that in the moment. I tell patients all the time when you’re having an eating disorder thought and I think, this could be applied to any negative self-talk, but the first time you recognize it, either mentally or audibly just say, “No! Just no!” Anything that’s going to be break that thought pattern. You can go there with a thought a little bit because we don’t necessarily want to push urges away, but when you see it begin to spiral out of control and you see yourself going down that dark path just say, “no” and then looking at the original trigger of whatever it was that was going on and dealing with that, I think is critical.
Paige: So, I’ve gotten us on a little bit of a tangent, here. Sorry about that; so we started with reality testing as a way to battle this negative self-talk and the second one I want to talk about is looking for alternative explanations, and you touched on this a tiny bit, but the idea of, is there anyway to look at this as a positive? Is there anyway to find meaning in this? Or, is there anything to learn from this? If I were in different state of mind, if I was a little more positive, how could I perceive this situation a little bit differently? Do you have anything else to add to alternative explanations? Or maybe an example of how to apply that?
Christy: I come back to even just the jeans example. You did a really good job of outlining could it be that I ate too much last night? Could it be that I ate a saltier meal? Could it be that I’m bloated? I think that’s a great example of just going through the list of what it could possibly be. I guess another example would be coming back to the poptart. So, if I ate a poptart and I’m going down the negative self-talk road, could it be that in the moment I didn’t have time to make breakfast and I was trying to take care of myself, nutritionally, by having a poptart and having something? Was it that I was feeling kind of down in the moment and that was my first thing that I reached for? And of course that would require some more exploration. Gosh, I’m having trouble thinking of examples.
Paige: That’s okay, it was kind of a hard one. So, yeah just kind of looking for alternate ways to explain something. I know we can think about this in terms of social interactions. An example came to mind that I heard somewhere where you might be walking down the hallway at work and you see some co-workers talking about something and they’re kind of whispering and then you walk up and they stop talking and if you’re being negative, if you’re going into that negative self-talk you can start saying, “Well, clearly they’re talking about me and they hate me and they don’t want me to work here and they’re going to fire me”, you know you can have all those thoughts.
Christy: (giggling) yeah, that’s a perfect example
Paige: But if you’re looking for alternative explanations you could ask yourself, “Are they planning a surprise for me? Are they talking about something that they don’t want me to know about yet? Are they planning a surprise birthday party for me?” I can only think of a surprise, but I’m sure there’s alternate explanations other than that. Or, “Were they talking about something personal between them that had nothing to do with me? That they just wanted to keep private?” Which is fair, you know? That happens
Christy: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.
Paige: Taht would be, to me, I can’t think of one off the very top of my head with food, but that would be one just kind of socially where we can spiral out of control with that negative self talk or we can look into some alternate explanations. I think it is important to note in this example is something along the lines of a group of friends talking about something and stopping when you walk up doesn’t need to be food related or weight related to send you out of control with your food. Because so many of us are emotional eaters or are struggling with either one end of the pendulum or another where, maybe we binge when we’re sad or feeling lonely or feeling rejected and other times we completely restrict our eating when we’re feeling that way. I think it’s useful to talk about those social examples because of how that can interact with our eating decisions.
Christy: Oh, for sure, absolutely. I think when you think of bringing awareness of another way you could look at a situation, is there another way that you could reappraise this, absolutely can be a way to begin to get out of the eating disorder/disordered eating stuff, because like you said, it’s not an immediate reaction of “I’m not good enough, therefore I need to restrict” or, “I’m not good enough so I should just binge so I can feel better for the instant gratification.” It can lead to a whole host of symptoms and behaviors.
Paige: Yeah. So, let’s move on to the third one, so the third idea for battling negative self-talk is putting it into perspective. One of my favorite things to tell myself or ask myself to put things into perspective when I might be struggling with feeling negative is: Am I trying my best? I really like to just ask myself, “If I’m really trying my best in difficult situations and I’m falling short, at least I know that I’m trying my very best.” In the end, that’s really all you can do. That, personally, helps me put it into perspective. What are some other ideas from you?
Christy: I really like the thought of looking at something and saying, “Is this situation really as bad as it ought to be?” “Is my worst case scenario really likely to happen?” I think when you get in that spiral of negative self-talk, negativity, you can go real fast to worst case scenario. So, it’s just saying, “Alright, is it true, is it possible that I’m really going to wind up in this worst case situation?” And if so, if that were a possibility, how likely is that to happen? Just really looking at it and thinking it through when you can pull yourself out of that emotional state and really looking at it through that logical eye.
Paige: You know, Christy, that’s actually something I do in my own head. I think my mom taught me this at a young age. I remember this very specifically. I had this music teacher in middle school who was really witchy. She would scream at us and she was awful and I remember one time I had to have a conversation with her because something blew up, something got out of control and I had to bring something up and my mom coached me through it and I was so anxious about this scary conversation I had to have with this adult figure in my life as a seventh grader. I remember my mom saying, “What is the very worst thing that can even happen, Paige?” And I just was like… I don’t know I came up with some example and she’s like, “Okay, do you think you can survive through the worst possible case scenario?” I thought, “You know what? Yeah! That wouldn’t be fun, but it’s really not that bad. I can do it.” So, I find myself using that now like maybe I’m anxious to get up in front of a big group of people, you know, what’s the worst that can happen? I could stumble over my words or I could trip and fall, but really in the end, I could just laugh it off and everybody would be fine with it. That’s just helped me put it into perspective.
Christy: I agree and I think it’s another one of those thoughts, an example of not pushing the thought away. [Just think,] “Alright, I’m going to let myself go there. I’m going to let myself engage and this is the worst case scenario”. I love the thought of, can I survive this? In my own life, I’m a well known hypochondriac over basic physical stuff that can happen, but for me it’s like, “Oh goodness, I have cancer and this is the end of it and it’s all going down hill” for everything! Absolutely everything, so for me, I have to reign it in; it’s not cancer, it’s fine, we’re going to be fine, we’re going to make it through this thing, just coming back to what’s actually going on here, and what is the outcome.
Paige: The present moment, rather than all the anxiety about the “what ifs”.
Christy: Yeah, because you kind of keep going with that and the anxiety over the anxiety gets bigger and then there you are.
Paige: Totally. So putting it into perspective, here’s some filters to help yourself, to question and to help you put it into perspective; things like:Is this situation as bad as I’m making it out to be? What is the very worst thing that can happen?
How likely is the worst to happen?
How likely is this thought that I’m thinking to actually happen?
Is there anything good that I can get from this situation?
Will this matter five years from now?
Questions like that are good mental filters to have on the tip of your tongue, so to speak, to ask yourself as your noticing different thoughts floating through your head you can ask yourself those things to put it into perspective in those vulnerable moments.
Christy: Absolutely, I agree. I specifically like the one, “Will this matter in five years time?” We get so spun out on things that are going on. We [do] want to be mindful and we want to be present and engaged, but we can be so spun [out] on those negative thoughts, those anxiety thoughts that it becomes all encompassing. And I really liked that huge perspective in five years; 1. Am I even going to remember this moment? 2. What kind of impact could it possibly [have]. I would say doing that five years, even five weeks or five days. Is this going to matter tomorrow? And really just trying to figure out the importance of each situation as you go.
Paige: So, I guess I’m full of stories today..
Christy: I love it!
Paige: I just thought of one for that one. Recently my two year old locked herself in the bathroom and I had a half an hour until I had to leave for work and I hadn’t take a shower yet so, I was literally about to get in the shower and she locked herself in the bathroom and couldn’t figure out how to get out. So, I am trying to coach her through it and stay calm like, “here’s how you unlock the door.” And my little four year-old was explaining it too and I was starting to panic. I can't miss this class I had to teach. I couldn’t be late, pretty soon the clock is whittling down and I literally have ten minutes until I have to leave and we just cannot get her out of there. I had a screwdriver, I took off the screws of of the lock, and somehow it still didn’t work, so I ended up having to be like, “Okay, June, stand back!” and I literally had to bash in the door with my hip to take a two second shower to get going. And in that moment of anxiety and stress about being late and frustration with my toddler for locking herself in the bathroom, I did have this tiny little thought of, “this is going to be so funny later, this is going to be such a good story”, but it didn’t really help me in the moment, but I wish I had latched onto that a little more than I did because if you can see the comedy of that; here’s this mom and a four year old bashing in a bathroom door because a sweet little two-year-old locked herself in there, I mean who hasn’t had that happen as a parent? I’m sure every parent has had that happen and now looking back it’s only been a month and it cracks me up, it’s hilarious and my poor two-year-old is scared of the bathroom now. Next time I’m in a situation like that, I hope I remember that broader perspective of, will this be funny later? Will this matter? Will this be a good story? Just having that positive spin.
Christy: Oh, absolutely and I think that as it relates to eating, you know, “Okay, I’m going to eat this cookie now, will this really matter? Will this really make an impact on my weight or my life? Or in day? A month? Eh, probably not” I love the thought of trying to put it on perspective and thinking about the broader impact and thinking about what’s going to go be it getting locked in a bathroom or having a cookie or whatever.
Paige: There you go! Thank you for tying that into the food, the nutrition side of that. That’s helpful
Christy: Yeah, you’re welcome (laughing)
Paige: So, number four. Let’s talk about using goal directed thinking. What comes to mind as way to battle that negative self-talk?
Christy: When you really think about goal directed thinking. We talk about how, is this self talk serving me? Are my thoughts serving me? It’s becoming purposeful and self redirected over what you’re looking to do. So, if your goal is to overcome an eating disorder, you need to set clear specific goals to get there and then you need to align your thoughts as much as possible to be that way. If there’s the negative self-talk that comes in and maybe isn’t going to be conducive to your goal, it’s recognizing that, changing it, reappraising it in the moment and trying to stop before it gets to any emotion driven behaviors that are going to be engagement in your eating disorder. We know that thoughts turn into behaviors so as much as you can, recognizing that and making sure your thoughts are in align with your goals before your behaviors are very much not in line with your goals.
Paige: Yeah, that’s a great synopsis. The way I boil this down to a simple filter in your brain is thinking about, does this thought help me? Or does this thought harm me? If it’s a helpful thought, feel free to latch on to it and and explore it and figure it out. If it’s not helpful feel free to just let it go. It doesn’t mean you don’t think about it, it doesn’t mean you get mad at yourself for thinking it, but maybe you just don’t give it much time.
Christy: Right, is this thought getting me closer to or further from my goal?
Paige: Yeah, and it’s another way of saying it, exactly.
Christy: Yeah, absolutely.
Paige: And I sometimes have to do that with myself too, just okay, is this a helpful thought? Not really, okay, let’s move on. I find that really kind of a helpful little, easy filter. Easy little thing to have on the tip of your brain to decide if that’s something really worth spending some time on or not. Anything to add to that one or do you want to move on to number five?
Christy: I think we can move on to number five.
Paige: Okay, so number five is recognizing cognitive distortions and, Christy, you’ve already mentioned this idea of cognitive distortions, but let's define that and talk about what that is and outline them because it’s easier to recognize them and identify them when you know what they are.
Christy: So, cognitive distortions being thoughts that maybe aren’t factual is way I look at it, kind of back to the jeans example looking at that, are my thoughts distorting the way I see myself, my body image, that kind of thing. Making everything appear a way that it really isn’t. It’s very extreme and very anxiety inducing in nature and I know we have some specific examples to talk about. My specific favorite distortion I like to talk about is all or nothing thinking.
Paige: That’s my favorite too!
Christy: I know, right? I think in the world of eating disorders you really get caught up in that, either I’m all in or I’m all out, there’s no shades of gray. A particular example that I like to talk about specifically with eating disorders is if someone has a cookie and [thinks] “Oh gosh, I ate a cookie, I may as well eat a whole package of cookies. I ate one, may as well just keep going because now I’ve screwed it up.” And that is definitely my favorite example of that because one or two cookies in the grand scheme of things, isn’t really going to matter, but a whole package of cookies might impact your weight, it might impact how you physically feel. It’s certainly going to impact your mood and your anxiety. It’s not, “I can’t eat any cookies and have no anxiety, or I can eat all the cookies and have all the anxiety” There’s a place in the middle and that’s where we want to reside is in that gray area.
Paige: Why do you think that’s so hard for people to reside in the gray area?
Christy: I think that people, especially around food, really like to adhere to rules. I think rules feel in control and they feel comfortable. So, the goal, primarily for someone is, I’m going to eat none of the cookies, that feels good. That feels in control. The gray area is gray fading into black. You don’t really know where you’re at, you don’t know what’s going to happen and it’s scary and it’s out of control and that’s hard. It’s hard to accept that you might not have control over a situation or you’re just so rigid in your thinking that anything even remotely beyond that becomes out of control, even when the reality is it's not out of control at all, it’s just your thoughts around it.
Paige: Yeah, in one of the previous episodes one of the guests mentioned, “It’s not letting yourself go, it’s letting yourself be.”
Christy: Yes, I love that. Love that!
Paige: I love that too, that really stuck with me. That’s probably a good little mantra to have in your head as you're trying to navigate this all or nothing thinking just because it is tricky. It is counterculture to not have structured rules about it, but ironically you do end up making better choices as you just live your life. You just let yourself be.
Christy: Absolutely and when you think about just letting yourself be that’s what I talk about with patients all the time. It’s getting okay with two cookies because not being okay with that is going to drive every other symptom, it’s going to drive restricting, it’s going to drive binging, it’s going to drive purging; whatever form that might look like to you. It’s getting oaky with living in the gray because then, like you said, it’s just being and the rigidity is not there and the rules aren’t there and so it becomes a little easier just to let it be and not have to engage in any compensatory behaviors to make yourself feel better.
Paige: I think another reason people gravitate towards that all or nothing mentality is just, and I hope this doesn't come off as patronizing, I think it’s just a process of maturity to recognize that life is so nuanced and, like an example is, and I don't know if I’ve said this one the podcast, so sorry if I’m repeating myself, but you tell your kids to never hit and that hitting is not okay, but as they get a little bit older you teach them, “You know, if someone's trying to kidnap you, you can hit them, you can bite them, you can punch them, you can scream at them or scratch them or do whatever you need to do” but it’s not something that's appropriate to teach a two-year-old that it’s okay to bite. Does that make sense? So, I almost see that as a child and as a younger person, you are kind of all or nothing, that’s how your brain sort of works. You don’t really live in that nuance and then as you mature in your relationship with food, I think it makes sense to see that gray and to see that color and nuance and recognize that really is where the beauty and pleasure and joy of eating and life really exist.
Christy: Oh yeah, and at that point in disordered eating it becomes an acquired skill again. I do love the example of catastrophizing, “Oh gosh, I ate this cookie, I’m definitely going to gain ten pounds”, it’s that extreme thinking, “I’m definitely going to gain weight from this, things are going to go bad, I ate this cookie, I’m off my diet, all is lost.” Catastrophizing, I’m taking it to the worst possible outcome, which I know we touched on a little bit before, but it’s really kind of being aware of that, just saying to yourself, am I catastrophizing right now? “I ate a cookie, I had two cookies”, whatever, “is this outcome that I’m imagining for myself really as bad as it could be?” That’s definitely a distortion.
Paige: Yeah, that’s perfect, couldn’t have said it better myself, any other ones you want to mention?
Christy: I think those are the two biggest ones, specifically that I see with my patients, the all or nothing, “I can’t do this, there’s not part of me that can do one ounce of this”, it’s what I see a lot. And then it’s definitely taking the “if I do the the absolute worst outcome is going to happen” Those are the two biggies that I see, absolutely.
Paige: Those are the big one for me too. One other one I just want to mention is the idea of personalization where as a cognitive distortion where if someone succeeds in some way in your life and you take that personally yourself, “Well, she got this promotion at work and that means that I’m not worth anything, or I’m a terrible person”. Not being able to recognize that other people achievements are positive things going on in their life really have nothing to do with you, but a lot of times, it’s easy to personalize other people’s success or failures as a representation of who you are as a person.
Christy: Absolutely, I definitely see that applied in a lot of ways, beit, someone is further along in recovery, “Well, she’s doing better than I am, why am I still struggling? This doesn't make sense, she must be better than me.” All those kind of things, absolutely, it’s hard to separate yourself from someone else’s achievements and know that has zero reflection of what you’re doing. It has absolutely no correlation at all and it’s important to recognize that.
Paige: Yeah, and that’s crucial for developing a positive self-talk when you’re not engaging in all of this, spiral thoughts that just lead you to negative spaces. So, Christy, we started off with that mindful manifesto and we kind of had a discussion of the good parts and the parts that made us both cringe a little bit, how do you want to tie this back into that intro. What are your thoughts at this point after we’ve parsed out ways to battle this negative self-talk, what do you hope people know about self-talk and how can we relate that to some of the great things with talked about with the mindful manifesto and then the issues we had there too?
Christy: I think that the thing with self-talk is that it can be used for positive, it can be really really helpful, it can motivate you, it can create ambition in you, or it can really hold you back in a lot of ways. Looking at the mindful eating manifesto and talking about, I’m going to view my breakfast as making me nourished and well fed and have energy to go through my day and be productive and do the things that are important to me and that I want to do. That's an example of positive self-talk and negative self-talk out of that same situation is, “Oh gosh, I ate breakfast, surely I’m going to gain weight for that, I should have restricted, I’m may as well not doing anything the rest of the day, I’m a failure because I could not not eat my breakfast.” So, it’s really taking situations and doing as best you can and through a lot of practice figuring out how you’re going to spin that in your head, how you’re going to get through that. And I know to go from negative self-talk to positive self-talk isn’t easy. It isn’t a one day thing, like boom, cured! But it’s really practicing that and working on that and noticing the root of the negative self-talk, reappraising those thoughts, is there another way you can look at this? Is there another reality it could possibly be, is there a positive way to look at this, and really practice practice practice. Either just mentally, or with a friend or through journaling, just bringing the awareness to your thoughts and reappraising them. Changing your thought process because I know, for me, if I go through a day and I think, “Alright, I ate breakfast, I’m well fed and I’m ready to take on this day, I’m going to do some great things” certainly has a bigger outcome than, “I ate breakfast and I shouldn’t have done that and now I’m a failure” when in reality the exact same behavior happens in both, you both ate breakfast, but it’s how you spin it, how are you going to make that work in your day and how are you going to make that work for you.
Paige: It’s the story you tell yourself after the big event that really ends up affecting future thoughts and future behaviors, for sure.
Christy: Absolutely and so when you think about what you ate, I really like to talk about with my patients, if someone has a poptart and they feel really bad about that and they’re in that negative self-talk spiral, my response to that is, “Sweet! You had some carbohydrate and you had some fat. Let’s talk about what those do for you and your body.” That’s one source of those nutrients, it’s one of millions of sources of those nutrients. How is your body going to use that? And how can you put a spin on that to view this as an okay thing? That’s not going to drive you to engage in eating disorder behaviors later.
Paige: It’s really not the poptart that’s bad it’s the spiral downward that can ensue with what you’re telling yourself, that story, again, that you’re telling yourself about that poptart.
Paige: That’s true with a cookie, that’s true with a pop tart, that’s true with trying on your jeans and having a negative thought about it.
Christy: It can be applied in any situation.
Paige: Well, I want to just ask one more quick question and then I’ll let you get going. Have you noticed any differences if you’ve been able to use some of these tactics in your own self talk? Have you seen any changes there?
Christy: Absolutely! As I referenced earlier, I’m kind of a hypochondriac by nature so, really bringing awareness to thoughts, really stopping distortions that I get like, “This mole on my arm has changed, surely it’s melanoma”. Being aware of that and bringing it back in, that’s significantly decrease my own anxiety because I’m really aware when I’m taking thoughts, when I’m running with them, when I have the extreme situation and it’s truly been able to help me bring it back. And the hypochondriac over physical symptoms is one example of that, but definitely in many other areas of my life I’ve been able to decrease my anxiety by just bringing awareness of the thoughts that actually need attention and then ones that are actually serving me versus the ones that are not serving me and being able to filter those things out.
Paige: That’s great, and I know a lot of people really love positive mantras so that’s another thing that sometimes can work for people is like, putting a little quote or a little mantra on your mirror in the morning that you say out loud or a sticky note on your computer that you see throughout the day to help have that right there, you’re thinking about it and if something negative creeps in you can talk yourself through it. Different things work for different people, but I loved hearing about you and about how you’re utilizing these in your own life. I know I am too. No one’s immune to negativity, it’s just part of it.
Christy: I’m definitely grateful to be in a field where I’ve really been able to take these concepts and apply them and then help others see how to apply them too.
Paige: Me too! I’m so glad you’ve given us your time today, Christy, thank you again for being here and before we let you go I just want to hear if you have any ways you’d want the listeners to keep in touch with you.
Christy: Yeah, sure, I am on instagram @Chistymaloney810 on facebook @Christymaloneynutritionandfitness and then also I randomly/ sporadically write a blog @irishtatorblog.wordpress.com, with full time work and a nine month old daughter there’s not a ton of time for that, but I’ll occasionally go on the rant that has come up that day that has irritated me. So, always a fun thing to check out.
Paige: Awesome, Christy, well thank you for all of the things that you shared today and I am just really really glad that you gave us your time. Thanks for being here.
Christy: Awesome, Thank you so much, Paige.