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 Post subject: Cognitive Distortions (aka, Black and White Thinking)
PostPosted: Wed Sep 18, 2013 10:36 pm 
admin goddess from hell
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People with EDs frequently engage in black and white thinking. This leads to rigidity and reinforcement of maladaptive thinking and coping mechanisms. The first step to challenging B&W thinking is "noticing" the thoughts: we think and do so much without really noticing it. Practice with that, and once you notice it, start thinking of alternative situations.

For example, #1 is "I've eaten it now, I’ve blown it." I know this is one I have let ruin entire days ("How could I - I'm so greedy/stupid/whatever???") when another response would be to notice the thought: "Yes, I've eaten it. But that doesn't mean I've blown anything. I need and deserve to eat, and my body wanted that food at that moment. It's ok that I ate it."

No, it's not going to be easy at first - you're going to have an ED on your shoulder taunting and haunting you about it. But the more you practice it, the more automatic it becomes and eventually some shade of grey can be found in there.

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Cognitive Distortions

There are some common thinking traps which repeatedly appear with those suffering with disordered eating. Known as cognitive distortions, these thinking habits consistently lead people to interpret reality in unhelpful and unreal ways. Individuals think they are seeing things in a logical manner and yet, when in the midst of an eating disorder, their perceptions are altered. Ideas about food, weight and what is seen in the mirror are skewed. These distorted thought patterns create irrational expectations about the consequences of eating and not eating.


Cognitive distortions are used by people with eating disorders as they provide guidelines for behavior in order to gain a sense of safety, control, identity, and containment. Recovery is about noticing the patterns used and choosing not to act on them or, better yet, to replace them with more positive or realistic ways of thinking.

1. All or nothing thinking: You see things in black-or-white categories. If a situation is anything less than perfect, you see it as total failure.
**Eg. I've eaten it now, I’ve blown it.
2. Overgeneralisation: You see a single event as a never-ending pattern of defeat by using the words always or never when you think about it.
**Eg. I will never get better.
3. Mental filter: You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively. One word of criticism erases all the praise you’ve received
**Eg. They said I look “healthy”: I must have put on weight.
4. Discounting the positive: You reject positive experiences by insisting they don’t count. If you do a good job, you tell yourself that anyone could have done as well.
**Eg. After 3 days I have binged again. I am hopeless.
5. Jumping to conclusions: You interpret things negatively when there are no facts to support your conclusion. Two common variations are mind reading (you arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you) and fortune telling (you assume and predict that things will turn out badly)
**Eg. They didn’t invite me out, they must hate me.
6. Magnification: You exaggerate the importance of your problems and shortcomings, or you minimize your desirable qualities. This is also called the binocular trick.
**Eg. X didn’t want to come out with me - eek, no body likes me!!
7. Emotional reasoning: you assume that your negative emotions reflect the way things really are.
**Eg. Things will never get better
8. Should statements: You tell yourself that things should be the way you hoped or expected them to be. Many people try to motivate themselves with should’s and shouldn’ts as if they had to be punished before they could be expected to do anything.
**Eg. I must exercise for an X time every day and can not ever eat Y
9. Labeling: This is an extreme form of all or nothing thinking. Instead of saying I made a mistake, you attach and negative label to yourself I’m a loser.
**Eg. I am a failure
10. Personalisation and blame: you hold yourself personally responsible for events that aren’t entirely under your control.
**Eg. If only I had been a better daughter my dad wouldn’t have had a heart attack

BodyMatters Australasia

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 Post subject: Re: Cognitive Distortions (aka, Black and White Thinking)
PostPosted: Thu Sep 19, 2013 1:16 pm 
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I really struggle with the personalisation side of things here, but I could say every single one relates to me and effects me in some way.

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 Post subject: Re: Cognitive Distortions (aka, Black and White Thinking)
PostPosted: Thu Sep 19, 2013 2:57 pm 
admin goddess from hell
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Me, too, Enie, and I suspect most of us have variants of each of these, plus others. The first thing is to notice. We can't challenge things we leave in the subconscious so we need to start being very conscious of our thoughts and critical in analysing them. I'd love to see members take one or two of these thoughts and working out some responses for when they catch a cognitive distortion going by.

I'm really bad with the negative filter. I had numerous performance reviews throughout my career, and they were all overwhelmingly positive, but since I'm not perfect there were always critiques around things I needed to improve. This is particularly so when you get what is called a 360 review, where your peers and staff would provide an anonymous review on an online instrument, which would then be collated and given to me. I always picked a range of people, including those I worked with well and those where the relationship may have been more strained, and some people are petty enough to use the 360 as an opportunity for revenge rather than being frank but constructive. So I could read through a 95% positive review, but all that stayed with me was the negative stuff: the cutting and damaging criticism. I was unable to put that into the context of the remainder of the review.

I have the same thing with some clinicians' reports. My psych at SPH and I had a difficult relationship, and once when I was collecting information for my disability provider, my GP attached the latest SPH Discharge Summary written by this psych. It was devastating, the things she said about me. I hadn't gone looking for it, but having received it without asking I was totally unprepared for what she wrote about me. And I had no more positive context to place this within; at the time SPH was all I was really getting, and if that is how they perceived me then I was afraid and embarassed to even go there. There was a time gap but when I finally got to my current therapist I was open about having serious trust issues with clinicians and we spend three long sessions just talking about trust where I was able to bring this up and have her help me put it into the context of a difficult relationship combined with my own strong personality in a treatment facility where total, non-questioning compliance was expected.

Anyway. What are some other experiences members have had with some of these or other cognitive distortions?

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 Post subject: Re: Cognitive Distortions (aka, Black and White Thinking)
PostPosted: Sun Sep 29, 2013 11:19 am 
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I can relate to pretty much all the things on the list, but something that I've really been struggling with a long time is jumping to conclusions. The example "The didn't invite me out, so the must hate me" is perfect to describe my way of thinking. Now that I think about it, I'm often convinced that people hate me without any proper evidence. I've also been convinced someone was angry at me for long periods of time until I gathered enough courage to ask that person about it, and then realizing that I was imagining the whole thing.


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