Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. - Romans 12:2
When I first started working as an eating disorder dietitian, I had the luxury of being mentored by my boss on different therapeutic modalities. As I was learning the different therapy models, one really stuck out to me and I use it on a daily basis: cognitive behavioral therapy. The reason it stuck out to me... it has the biblical truth of Romans 12:2 built into it. And while I'm definitely not a therapist, I use cognitive behavioral therapy techniques on a daily basis for myself and with my patients.
What is cognitive behavioral therapy?
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) assumes that thoughts, behaviors and feelings are connected and influence one another. This is most commonly portrayed in the CBT triangle. What the triangle tells us is that we can choose a place on the triangle to influence the others.
As an example, if I'm nervous about my first day at work and wanting people to like me I might start to think "if I look different then people will accept me." This may lead to disordered or eating disorder behaviors for a lot of my patients. What CBT says is that we can target the thoughts and challenge them. We can have the thoughts but not engage in the disordered behavior. We can focus on the feeling and think of ways to make ourselves feel less nervous. Because all of these interact, we have our choice on how to intervene.
"So, how did you challenge that thought?"
If you were to ask any of my eating disorder patients the number 1 question I ask them in a session, they would in unison reply: "so, how did you challenge that thought?" This is because my work as an intuitive eating dietitian that practices with a Health at Every Size lens is very naturally counter-cultural. My patients leave my sessions and walk into a world filled with people, shows, moDovies, and social media that affirms their biggest fears and praises their disordered habits. My role as a dietitian (in combination with a therapist of course!) is to help them heal from that by helping them renew their mind.
So how do I renew my mind?
There are 5 steps that we can take to renew our mind.
Identify the cognitive distortion. Familiarize yourself with cognitive distortions by working with a therapist. A therapist can help you identify what a cognitive distortion is, so when they come (because they do come) you can identify it for what it is - a LIE.
STOP! The Thought. Visualize a stop sign. Picture a car breaking for a red light. Any metaphor that might help you stop the distorted thought.
Replace with Truth. For my patients, sometimes this takes the form of nutrition science information we discuss in sessions. Maybe knowing how carbohydrates are used in the body helps you eat your meal plan. Maybe thinking how God designed your body to be unique helps you not focus on a world system that perpetuates the "thin ideal" helps you respect your body. Maybe learning intuitive eating principles and knowing how habituation works makes it less scary when you find yourself craving feared foods. Whatever truths work for you, replace your LIE with a TRUTH!
Repeat often. Distorted thoughts are tricky and persistent. Just like we see Satan trying to tempt Jesus in multiple different ways while he's in the wilderness for 40 days prior to starting his ministry (see Matthew 4:1-11) , distorted thoughts do just the same - luring us in with whatever might grab our soul's attention. A common therapy assignment that has worked for patients is keeping a thought log to walk them through steps 1-3 and is a physical reminder that they can repeat as often as they'd like.
Create a ritual for filling your brain with truth. Just like we don't wait until there's a fire to practice a fire drill, we don't want to wait until we are in a crisis to fill our brain with truth. This can mean doing your homework assigned by your dietitian, filling your social media with accounts that have positive affirmations or body positive language, or spending time learning biblical truths to help combat the world system that praises body over soul. Find a ritual that works for you to support you through steps 1-4.
While the steps above might seem easy in theory, I want to validate that it is HARD!!! In a spiritual sense, I feel that when I start to fight back against my distorted thoughts about my own life experience (again we all have them), I feel that they can get louder and meaner. This is why it takes a village to do this work - find your village and don't let a blog post (not even a good one) take the place of finding a specialized team to help you fight your distorted thoughts.
I'd love to hear from you! What truths do you use to challenge negative thoughts?