Change Your Thoughts
Freedom from Eating Disorders, LLC
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Christian Eating Disorder Recovery Course
Change Your Thoughts
After completing this lesson, you’ll have valuable insights and tools to help you replace the lies you believe with the truth, transforming your recovery.
I know that for me, changing my thoughts changed my recovery. May you also experience transformation as you apply the principles and complete the homework in this lesson.
While it may seem that eating disorders are all about food and weight, you’ve probably discovered that isn’t the case. You may have noticed that certain thoughts and emotions trigger food-related behaviors. Even if you haven’t, once you’ve read through this lesson, you should begin to see the connection. Your thoughts play a significant role in your recovery. Below you’ll find sections on exploring your thoughts, the connection between thoughts and behaviors, thoughts and spiritual warfare, and renewing the mind.
Explore Your Thoughts
It may seem odd to explore your thoughts: it may seem all you do is think and you wish you could shut off your brain sometimes. But consider the thousands of thoughts you have in a day. Imagine how much they must affect you. They’re constantly running, so they continually have the opportunity to influence you. It’s important to examine those thoughts and get to the root of them.
- You formed many beliefs about yourself based on what others have said to you. Were your parents affirming or critical? Did your teachers praise or degrade you? Did people comment on your appearance and weight? While you were growing up, you were vulnerable to the opinions of authority figures. You looked to them for acceptance and approval, so whatever they said stood out to you. For example, if you were told you were lazy, stupid, ugly, or fat, you believed it must be true.
- You made conclusions about yourself based on how others treated you. If you were abused, you got the idea that you were bad and unworthy of good treatment. Or perhaps it wasn’t that overt. You may have been neglected or overlooked, and you concluded that you must be unimportant and not good enough.
- You internalized what others said about you; you made these thoughts your own. They were adults so it only stands to reason you believed what they said. Then those beliefs became the negative foundation for more of your beliefs.
- Your siblings, classmates, and friends said things to you and about you. Perhaps they were jealous of you and made cutting remarks. Some of them may have bullied you. Others may have criticized you in an attempt to build themselves up.
- Even if you received a lot of affirming comments from your parents and other authority figures, you may still struggle. It can take several positive comments to counteract just one negative one.
- Even one negative comment can make an impact on someone if it’s about a particularly sensitive topic. Also, if you felt badly about something, you may have replayed it over and over again in your mind, increasing its impact. This is a natural thing to do, so don’t beat yourself up over it, but realize it hurts you. Try to curb it in the future.
- As the father of lies, Satan plays a significant role in your thoughts. Find more on this in the spiritual warfare section of this lesson.
- It will help to examine your troublesome conclusions and look back to where they originated. This isn’t to dwell on them, but to get to their roots so you can change them. You may not be used to identifying your thoughts. They’re there, and you act according to them, but you may not have really recognized or questioned them before. Now is the time to evaluate your beliefs.
- This lesson isn’t about chiding yourself for your negative thoughts. And it isn’t about merely pretending everything is wonderful and that if you think only good things, only positive things will happen. The problem with that is it can lead to denial about the realities of life. Then when you’re hit with a challenging life event, you aren’t equipped for it. Instead, this lesson is about recognizing your thoughts, evaluating where they came from, and examining how they affect you. It’s about discerning what’s true and what isn’t and then replacing those lies and negative thoughts with the truth and positive ones.
Examining the beliefs in your self-talk, exploring where they came from, and replacing them is going to be an important part of your recovery. Remember: just because someone said something about you doesn’t make it true. You don’t have to believe the lies anymore. They’ve probably been with you for a long time, and you may not have realized until now how much they influence you, but it’s important to recognize their impact.
Connection between Thoughts and Behaviors
- Your thoughts affect your emotions and behaviors. For example, if you think you’re stupid, you may feel badly about yourself, and then punish yourself. On the other hand, if you see yourself as created, loved and treasured by God, you can embrace that, feel grateful and appreciative, and treat yourself with respect. These are simple examples, but they give you the basic idea.
- Maybe your reasoning about problem solving looks like one or more of these statements:
I should stuff my feelings. Emotions aren’t important anyway.
Food comforts me. It makes me feel better.
Food repulses me. I’m in control when I don’t eat.
My eating disorder is my way to cope.
If you think emotions aren’t important, or that food is associated with the solutions to emotional issues, you’re going to get stuck in food-related behaviors. Inability to deal with emotions can be one of the driving factors of an eating disorder.
- Perhaps you have caught yourself thinking:
I don’t have a purpose in life.
I’m unacceptable to others if my appearance doesn’t fit the norm.
I don’t deserve to be happy.
If so, pay attention to how you feel emotionally when it comes to notions like these. Then examine how that emotional response makes you want to treat yourself.
- Maybe you have conclusions like these about your recovery:
I’m beyond help.
I’ve messed up so much that God won’t want to help me.
The eating disorder is so familiar to me that I’m afraid to recover and live without it.
If I try to recover, I’ll just relapse again.
If you genuinely believe statements like these, you’ll feel and act accordingly. That isn’t to say you aren’t going to make progress in some way, but such perceptions will ultimately stall your recovery.
- The thoughts in the examples above are lies, and lies are one of the cornerstones of an eating disorder. You may not have recognized them as lies in the past, and it’s going to take time and effort to evaluate and shift your thoughts, but it’s also going to be freeing.
- Be mindful of the constant battle for your thoughts. It’s a battle of lies v. truth, the healthy voice v. the eating disorder voice. Every day you’ll have to choose which voice you’ll nurture. You can focus on the lies and let them control you, or you can challenge those lies with the truth. You’ll also have the opportunity every day to choose which voice you’ll heed. Will you listen to the eating disorder voice and let it guide your emotions and behavior, or will you heed the healthy voice and act accordingly? You’ll need to make these choices every day.
- Even Paul talks about how thoughts are related to changing and growing. “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:22-24).
Can you see the connection? Faulty conclusions lead to unhealthy behaviors. Since your thoughts play such a vital role in your eating disorder, it’s important to understand a little more about the origin of some of these beliefs.
Your Thoughts and Spiritual Warfare
There’s a battle going on in the spiritual realm. God wants you to break free from what holds you captive. He longs for you to experience his love and power. He desires to heal and strengthen you.
Conversely, Satan intends to stop all that. He wants to lie to, deceive, steal from, and ultimately destroy you. It’s very easy to fall prey to his lies and deception. He may plant such notions in your mind and convince you that they’re your own thoughts, or he may magnify the negative beliefs you already have. He may use any of those negative thoughts to convince you there’s no hope for someone like you, you don’t deserve a better life, no one wants to have a relationship with you, you’re unlovable unless you’re at a certain weight, or any number of other self-condemning, self-destructive thoughts.
Satan also wants you to believe the lie that your food-related behaviors are no big deal, but don’t fall for it. Eating disorders involve mental torment, emotional turmoil, and health problems. They’re seriously damaging on all levels. Eating disorders can be fatal. They claim thousands of lives every year. You don’t have to be one of them.
It’s important to understand your position in Christ to help you see that, in his power, you can recognize and reject the lies of the enemy.
- You have the power of Christ in you – the power to be alert to the enemy’s tactics, the power to resist him, the power to say no to what hurts you. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, he was given authority over Satan. Paul declares that your Savior and Friend not only possesses this power, but that he shares it with you. “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13-14). When you enter a personal relationship with Jesus, by his grace, you’re seated with him in the heavenly realms and receive access to his authority and power. It’s therefore in his strength that you resist the devil and fight your spiritual battles. In Ephesians it says, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:4-7). There’s no need to live in defeat. In him, you have all that you need.
- Peter knew what it was like to be caught off guard and he warns others to be aware of the devil’s watch and resist him. “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings” (1 Pet. 5:8-9). Understand that the prowler is always watching and waiting to prey on anyone he can. As someone with an eating disorder, you’re vulnerable. Nevertheless, in Christ, you have the power to resist him.
- Give yourself over to God to come under his protection and receive the strength you need to resist Satan’s temptations. James encouraged others to live out their faith. He gives straightforward instruction stating how you can send evil on its way. “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).
- When you submit to God, think of him as your stronghold when you face temptation. David tells some of the ways in which God can be close and sustaining. “The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold” (Ps. 18:2). Your Father is strong, steady, and secure. As you take refuge in him, he will deliver you no matter what your distress in life. Certainly, as you find shelter in him, you’ll find protection and power to face the enemy.
- Bless John for recording Jesus’ description of the enemy. The Truth exposed the liar. “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). Satan plants thoughts into your mind and convinces you that they’re your own. He is an accomplished accuser and can instill you with confusion, self-degradation, fear, and negative thinking. Learn to recognize these lies. Paul calls this taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. “We demolish arguments and every pretention that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). Imagine the thoughts that must have taunted him during his lifetime, including those that tempted him to yield to lies. He knew that submitting his thoughts to Christ was the way to live.
- Examine each thought you have about yourself and discern whether it’s true or false. As you submit to God, he will shed the light of his truth on the lies you believe. Then you can resist those lies and believe the truth instead. In Scripture, this is called renewing the mind. “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Rom. 12:2).
- To be transformed is to experience significant change. As you walk in his truth, you’ll become more like him and live a life that’s more pleasing to him. The Lord tells you how to focus your thoughts so they please him and lead you to live the victorious life. Since your thoughts directly affect your behavior, it’s important to train them as he prefers. Paul, the ever practical one, instructed the Philippians regarding appropriate thoughts: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things” (Phil. 4:8). Imagine how your life might be different if you were to consistently focus on such thoughts. It seems so simple (not necessarily easy, but also not necessarily complicated) – replace the lies and negative thoughts with the truth and significant change will occur. Why not try it?1
Renew the Mind
- The first step to renewing the mind is to recognize the lies and negative perceptions you have about yourself, God, or your recovery. You may believe they’re true, feel they’re true, and act as if they’re true, but these falsehoods and negative beliefs are destroying you. It’s important to recognize what they are and stop them when they come. This is also explained above and illustrated with 2 Cor. 10:5.
- Think of it like this. Suppose someone tells you not to think of the color yellow; don’t think of sunshine, dandelions, bananas, or anything that’s yellow; think of any other color but yellow. Of course, you’re going to focus on the color yellow. On the other hand, imagine that someone tells you to think of any color but yellow, to go ahead and concentrate on shades of blue or green, red, purple or orange, or think of pink or lavender. This way, you’re more likely to think of a color other than yellow.
In other words, if you just determine NOT to think something, that isn’t enough. It’s a start, and it’s absolutely a great step, but you’ll need to do more. You’ll need to replace that distortion. You need to be “armed” with the truth to combat the lies and negative thoughts. In the homework section, you’ll find a tool to help you change your thoughts.
- “Consider how it might change your emotions and behavior if you focus on how even baby steps add up to a journey instead of listening to the lie that recovery isn’t possible. If you’re able to accept your appearance instead of believing you’re ugly, think of the difference that may make in your recovery. If you believe the truth instead of the lies, imagine how your life might be different.”2
- One of the main areas where you may need to change your thoughts is how you see yourself. If you have a lot of negative self-talk, check out the lesson See Yourself through God’s Eyes Inside and Out.
Remember Satan is the enemy. The eating disorder is the enemy. You are NOT the enemy, so don’t treat yourself like one. The eating disorder will lie to you and make promises it can’t keep. Don’t listen to it. Instead, respect yourself as God’s child and work to change your thoughts and feed the healthy voice.
Changing your thoughts is a process that will take patience, persistence, and perseverance, so please be gentle with yourself. The lies have been in charge for a long time, and they won’t go down without a fight. Do your best not to chide yourself for those beliefs. Instead, focus your time and energy on replacing them with better things. Stand up to those lies and “truth them to death.” You’ll need to do this repeatedly. There are days you might get sick of it, and the process may feel wearing. Know that the eating disorder may win some battles along the way, but don’t let it win the war. That victory belongs to you.
Dear Heavenly Father,
I struggle with constant negative thoughts about myself that fuel the eating disorder. I try not to succumb to these lies, but I’ve believed them and acted upon them for so long. I know I need to replace them with the truth. You said in Romans 12:2 that one will be transformed by the renewing of the mind. That’s what I want. Transformation. Please help me recognize the lies, redirect my thoughts, recall the truth, and use it to replace the lies.3
Also, I realize the enemy has distorted my thoughts about myself; he has deceived me. I ask in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, through his blood and resurrection, that you will rebuke all deceiving spirits. Your Word tells me I am seated with Christ in the heavenlies and in his authority, I command all deceiving spirits to depart from me. I ask your Holy Spirit to fill me with all truth. Please help me to recognize and reverse negative thinking whenever necessary. Please help me to be prepared and disciplined in combating lies with your truth. I know that you will always make truth available to me.
In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.1
Whose Call Will You Answer?
The eating disorder stands on one side of you, and freedom stands on the other. Both are calling your name, hoping to receive your full attention. Each is doing its best to entice you.
As the eating disorder calls your name, it lies to you, deceives you, and chips away at what seems to be the very core of your soul. It intertwines its message with messages of those who have criticized or degraded you, including yourself. It hides itself so well that it’s difficult to see the danger to which it’s leading you.
As freedom calls your name, it tells you who you truly are and points out the beauty and talents that make you unique. It tells you of a new life that can be yours. Yet, since this is all so new to you, you aren’t sure how genuine it really is and that doubt makes it difficult for you to picture it for yourself.
You’re in the middle as they each call out your name louder and louder. Whose call will you answer?3
Change Your Thoughts
- Start by making three columns, on paper or in a Word table, Excel spreadsheet, or something similar.
- As lies and negative thoughts come to mind, record them in the left column.
- Evaluate each item on your list and try to determine where it came from and why you think it’s there. Put your conclusions in the middle column. Examples of possible sources of your thoughts include: your upbringing, unrealistic expectations of yourself, self-condemnation, Satan, your relationships. The point is to recognize your negative thoughts and get some idea of where they originated.
- If it feels like too much, you can ask for help to work on this or you can take a break. As you evaluate these thoughts, they might trigger some difficult emotions. Ultimately, you’ll want to address what’s troublesome with your counselor, and that will take time. For now, just fill in the column the best you can and make note of what you need to discuss.
- In the right column, list things like verses, quotes, phrases, song lyrics, and positive, truthful statements that combat the lies and negative thoughts. It might be hard to come up with the truth on your own, so it’s okay to ask for help. Someone else can usually be more objective.
- It’s okay if you don’t initially believe what you’re putting in the right/truth column. Remember that something can be true even if you don’t believe it or feel it. In time, and as you continue to work through issues, it should get easier to believe these truths. They are your weapon against the eating disorder voice: the voice of the enemy. The lies have had a lot of influence in your life. Let the truth fight, overpower, and replace them.
- You’ll want to reinforce what you have in the right column. You made lists in the other columns to help you recognize, evaluate, and take captive the thoughts that are there as well as potentially work on any issues that arise in the middle column. You don’t want to skip over any of that. But you should also concentrate on the right column. Write these words on note cards you can carry with you or keep out where you can easily access them. Perhaps you’ll want to put some around your mirror, on your refrigerator, in your purse or wallet, on your desk, or in your phone — wherever they’re handy and work well for you. That way, when those lies come, you’ll have the truth within your grasp.
- Throughout this assignment, remember that there’s no perfect way to do this. It’s okay if some lines are left blank or if the page gets messy or has misspellings or typos. Try not to let that get to you. While that may be easier said than done, it’s important not to let the appearance of your assignment distract you from the true meaning of it. So do your best to focus on what these thoughts reveal, because doing so can help you change them.
As you search for items for your truth column, you may find some helpful verses and quotes in the other lessons as well as in my e-books.
The remaining features for this lesson, as listed below, are printable. You may download the PDF file here.
Answer Key for Quiz
All Scripture is taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV®
Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®
Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Find out about other lessons on the Recovery Course page.
Change Your Thoughts
Learn to Deal with Emotions
See Yourself through God’s Eyes Inside and Out
Address Your Relationship with Food
Invite God into Your Recovery
Let Go of Control
Face Your Fears
Experience Inner Healing
Let Go of Perfectionism
Let Go of Guilt
Let Go of Shame
Deal with Relapses