I didn’t have a car but I taped it on the wall of the tiny bedroom I rented back then (sorry, landlord).
My therapist gave me this sticker after I had laid all my negative feelings about myself in front of him. I want to write about it today because I think it may be relevant to you too, if you’re struggling with gaining weight when recovering from hypothalamic amenorrhea.
What I Was Afraid Of
Back to 3.5 years ago when I started seeing a therapist, many of my fears were related to what others think about me.
I had been depressed for a while, but after moving to the US, I found another source of worry–I was always afraid that my English isn’t good enough. I was always worried about saying things wrong and I was sure that when that happened, people thought I was stupid.
I didn’t think that anyone would make fun of me, but the fear of making mistakes was sitting in the back of my mind all the time and not letting me relax in social situations. Of course, the more nervous I was, the more mistakes I made.
I was also struggling with finding things to talk about with people. Because that was hard and sometimes I just couldn’t come up with anything, I instantly assumed that everyone thinks I’m such a boring person. And because I’m boring, who would like to hang out with me? No one. When I was invited somewhere, I assumed that they invited me because they had also invited my friends, not because they’d actually like me.
I was also really afraid of gaining weight. Back then, I was juuust about to start letting go the super restrictive mindset and the need to count every calorie I ate. I had let a little bit looser with my food, so I was constantly afraid of gaining weight. Why was that so awful? Well, I was sure that others will notice and talk behind my back how I had I let myself go and got lazy and fat.
Our Assumptions are Often Wrong
What I learned in cognitive therapy was that most people make false assumptions and interpret things inaccurately. Sometimes it happens so quickly and automatically that we’re not even taking a moment to step back and ask: Is what I’m thinking really and actually true?
Using my examples: When I messed up a word or a sentence in a foreign language, I quickly concluded that people will think I’m stupid.
When there was an awkward silent moment that I couldn’t fill by saying anything reasonable, I’d figure that the other person thinks that there’s nothing to talk to me about.
The way we interpret situations directly impact our mood, the way we feel about ourselves, and what kind of actions we take. For example, when someone asked me to repeat what I just said because they didn’t understand what I meant, my interpretation was that he thinks I’m stupid. Of course it made me feel bad about myself. But our thoughts affect our actions, and there were definitely times when I didn’t go to a get together or avoided staying in a room with another person, because I was just afraid.
How The Way We Think Impacts Our Actions
What has all this to do with hypothalamic amenorrhea?
Well, we gain weight. Most of us don’t love it. Some of us hate it.
However, it may not be as bad as we think it is. We don’t have to believe all the negative thoughts we have around it.
We may assume that everyone will notice our few added pounds and think about it. Let’s get real. Most people don’t care. Sure, sometimes those added pounds are noticeable. People may get curious, but does it necessarily mean they think badly of us?
We may think:
- So-and-so must think I let myself go, that I’m lazy and fat!
- I’m a trainer, and I’m sure my clients won’t take me seriously anymore!
- They definitely talk behind my back about how huge my butt is!
This kind of thinking makes us feel nervous, upset and ashamed. We become self conscious and because of that, we may start avoiding going out, hanging out with people. Be become really insecure.
We may make things worse by making the issue bigger than it actually is–by checking our bellies, thighs, butt or whatever body part, in the mirror. We may really zoom in to it to see how bad it really looks. By spending hours staring at this body part and telling ourselves how awful it is, of course it makes us feel like crap about ourselves.
But we don’t have to get in front of the mirror for this. We may in fact avoid the mirror but inside of or heads, we’ve decided we’re fat, so we still keep thinking about it all the time. The more we think, the more believe it.
How Not to Believe Everything We Think
But it is possible to not believe everything we think. Here’s how to do it:
1. Recognize the situations where the negative thoughts appear. Does it happen when you’re surrounded by other people? When you’re seeing yourself in a mirror? When someone is looking at you?
2. Observe. What’s going on in your mind? What are the exact thoughts? Say them out loud or even write them down. They could be something like this:
- I’m fat! I’m sure my friends think so too!
- Why is this person at a coffee shop staring at me? She must be thinking that my legs are huge!
- If you’re a fitness trainer, you may think, My clients don’t take me seriously, because I’m fat!
3. Notice how these thoughts made you feel. Sad? Upset? Hopeless? Angry?
4. Find reasons why your assumptions (in step 2) can’t be true. This one is really important, but it may also be very hard, because a lot of times we are so convinced that our assumptions are accurate.
But we need to get uncomfortable and find reasons why the things we thought are true, actually cannot be true. Here are some examples:
- I’m trying to read other people’s mind. You never asked anyone if they think you’re fat, just decided it for them.
- I’m making assumptions based on my emotions, not real facts. You may feel fat, but very likely you aren’t by any standards.
- I compare myself to others. You’re doing it, even though you know we are all different and comparing doesn’t make any sense.
5. Respond. Once you’ve recognized this thought is probably inaccurate, you’re going to look for ways to respond to them. It could go like this:
- I don’t have special powers to see inside people’s heads. Therefore it’s unreasonable to think that they were judging me. I have no evidence.
- It’s a fact that I am not fat. These are my emotions talking. Side note: even if you’re using BMI as a tool to measure your “fitness” or “fatness”, know that this is an inaccurate parameter too. There are plenty of people whose BMI is higher than “recommended” 25, but for whom this is optimal for their health.
- It’s not realistic to compare my body to cover models’ bodies. You know really well that what we see in magazines is often not reality. Even comparing yourself to someone who you know is not okay–because first, we don’t know their whole story and second, we are all different.
These responses should be realistic and based on facts, so you really know that they are true. We cannot see into other people’s heads, we have no magical powers, assumptions we make are often based on our emotions and so on. By finding real responses, we’ll start to see how the assumptions we made don’t make sense, and the physical changes we go through aren’t as awful anymore.
It’s important to know that not everything we think is true. Wrong assumptions only make us feel worse. Because they way we feel affects also our actions, negativty may slow down our recovery.
I hope these steps help you–they helped me when I was struggling with depression. Practicing them takes time and effort, but it will be worth it.
If you have any questions, please let me know!