Woman thinking

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Letting Go of Zebra Thinking
Your task is to break out of old ways of black-and-white thinking. Here are some tips for actively choosing more soothing and realistic thoughts.

  • Watch for trigger words. This includes absolute terms like "always," "never," "ever," "perfect," "disaster," and "impossible." If you hear yourself saying these words, try to counter them with a less extreme term, like "sometimes," "occasionally," "good enough" and so on. In the context of eating, typically these words form sentences like "I'm a complete failure," "I've totally ruined everything," and "I will never be able to stop stress eating." Instead, focus on a more realistic statement, such as "I am often able to soothe myself with activities other than eating."
  • Set up realistic expectations. Feeling overwhelmed is often partly due to unrealistic goals that you can't possibly achieve. Emotional eaters are notorious for setting themselves up for failure. Statements like "I will eat only healthy foods tomorrow," or "I will never eat another donut" are zebra statements. You have to give yourself some leeway that you might slip up here and there.
  • The two-minute rule. Emotional eaters often feel that they must do things perfectly or they give up. They think they'll do half an hour of exercise or none at all. Instead, whatever it is, commit to trying it out for just two minutes. For example, try just two minutes of a self-soothing technique. See what happens.