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Monday, 04 June 2018 16:56

How to Implement CBT and Deal with Stress Eating

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The other day I discussed how cognitive behavior therapy is now becoming more recognized as a way to deal with stress eating. Here's how you can actually learn it on your own, if you are willing to work at it. 
An important aspect of learning to control negative thinking and the stress around it, has to do with how you talk to yourself. Every single day you have an endless stream of thoughts that go through your head. Thoughts are both negative and positive. Some can be very logical and reasonable, and yet others may be totally irrational, thoughts you have simply come to believe them as your truths just because you've affirmed them so many times to yourself. You may have never even examined them before. The following is a step by step way to look at, and change negative thinking into something less stressful. If you can take the time to actually write this process out, things become more clear.
Step One - Identify the Stressful Situation: Sometimes we get so caught up in life’s stress and busyness we can't even recognize what the real problem is. Weed i out what is causing you stress. Tackle the source of the real problem. Define the origin of your stress.
Step Two - Identify Your Thoughts: Be aware and stay openly conscious of what you are thinking, whenever you can, especially in a stressful circumstance. What are your direct thoughts when the stress occurs? Try to identify any negative or self-defeating thoughts coming through your consciousness. Notice how those thoughts actually impact how you feel, both physically and emotionally.
Important: Be aware there will be times when you simply do not even know what those thoughts might be. If you are driven to do something you really do not want to do, (like deviate from your diet plan because you feel stressed or anxious) you need to figure what your subconscious or underlying thoughts might be. You can usually figure these out out and guess what they might be by examining the events you found undesirable from earlier in your day. Sometimes openly discussing it with someone trusting and objective may help, or even journaling can help you figure it out. Many thoughts simply get buried in your subconscious and can be a little tricky to unravel in your head. It's worth the effort to sort it out so you can deal with the stress appropriately. 
Step Three - How Do Those Thoughts Make You Feel?: Remember there is always more than just one simple feeling. Be truthful in how you feel. Note that feelings are only just that, feelings. They may be uncomfortable, but they are simply telling you how you are personally experiencing a situation. Sometimes they feel unbearable but they really can be tolerable. Allow yourself to be uncomfortable, you can learn to experience them for what they are. Notice how these feelings are impacting your stress level. These feelings impact your thoughts directly, and your thoughts can directly result in negative or unwanted behavior (stress/emotional eating). 
Step Four - Challenge your Thoughts: This step can be a real challenge when you are in the throngs of stress, which is why you have to stay calm and learn to "be in the moment." Challenge your negative thoughts. Actively question them. Remember many thoughts become actual belief systems over time simply because they have never been questioned. Are these thoughts actually true? Is there some other explanation? What is the real evidence to support these thoughts? Are they distorted in any way? Again, it might be helpful to have someone to bounce your thoughts around with. Be open to the idea that you simply cannot be objective in certain situations. Extreme thinking is frequently negative.
Step Five - Change your Thoughts into More Empowering Ones: How could you make these thoughts be more positive and/or empowering? Find and replace a different thought to dispute the negative/self/defeating thought process when it occurs. Reframe these patterns of thinking with more empowering positive, or even accepting thoughts. Notice your stress level coming down as you become more positive.
Putting It All Together: 
1. Stressful situation: Your boss gets really upset with you for a honest mistake you made. He usually does not get upset when you make an honest mistake.
2. Negative thinking: "What an awful mistake I made. I should have not made that mistake. I'll lose my job. I need the money to pay my mortgage." (This is extreme thinking. Extreme thinking can be negative thinking.)
3. Feelings that could be triggered by negative thinking: You may be feeling like a failure, fearful, being overwhelmed, pressured, worried, anxious and depressed. (Notice how they could make you feel increasingly more stressed.) Resulting behavior: At this point you may have headed for the vending machine or refrigerator to eat, even though you were not physically hungry. 
4. Positive thoughts to reframe the situation and possible ways to respond to this mistake: "I'm not the only one to have ever made a mistake. Maybe my boss was having a bad day and overreacted. Maybe I can fix the mistake. Do I need to discuss this more with my boss? What did I learn from this mistake? What’s done is done, I need to forgive myself and let this go. I'll go to the gym tonight and work off these negative feelings."
Summary: Notice that the problem was identified as the boss getting upset over a mistake when he usually does not get that mad. Now look at the direct thinking (negative thinking) which triggered more negative feelings that could make a person feel even more upset, and even driven to eat over it. Now review how those negative feelings were proactively turned around. And even though the mistake was still made and maybe the mistake was not directly fixed,  but the stress behind the situation was. The event could possibly be reframed in a different way, and then some active form of stress diffusion (going to the gym) was implemented. There could even be a form of acceptance of the mistake, a letting go.
This technique, using a cognitive behavior therapy skill, has been proven to be effective in numerous forms for decades. It was originally developed by Albert Ellis PhD, author of sixty-five books on psychotherapy. Although this kind of thinking takes practice, it still can be learned on your own. Additionally there are many cognitive behavior therapists available where you can experience more active practice in this area if you need more hands on help with it.
Numerous books are also available on the subject: Self-Discipline by Theodore Bryant, MSW is an actual workbook and very amusingly highlights this thought process. Another more science based book isYou Are Not Your Brain by M. Jeffrey Schwartz which gives you a 4 step solution for changing bad habits and faulty thinking based on cognitive behavior concepts. There are many more but the important thing is to address any faulty thinking if it is causing you stress and driving you to eat inappropriately.
 "The only pressure I'm under is the pressure I've put on myself."   - How much stress have you created because of your own thinking?
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