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Unlearning Negative Thoughts and Behaviours of Eating Disorders and Excessive Exercise


By Columnist Eleni Psillakis – Eating Disorder Educator and Filex 2016 Inspiration Award Winner:

Unlearning bad habits can make you feel like a new you
Photo Credit: Pallina, 2013 – Second Life –

It takes 21 days to form a habit, whether it be a good or a bad one. That is not a long time considering how long these habits may last in someone’s life. If they are bad habits that last for years, then the consequences are damaging.

Unlearning Bad Habits

Treating the behaviours is necessary, but if we only manage the behaviour, then this is a reactive response. To address the thought patterns is much harder, but the results will be more lasting and beneficial. To treat the beliefs is to treat the cause and not just the symptom. Some thoughts underlying negative behaviour patterns may include but not limited to:

  • I’m not good enough.
  • I am only worthy if I try hard.
  • I am not loved as I am.
  • No one understands me.
  • My opinion is not valued.
  • I am not valued.
  • Things never go right for me.
  • I do not deserve anything to go right.
  • I am a failure.

Changing Negative Behaviour into Positive

The negative behaviours around food and exercise become the means of coping with these thoughts and self-worth is based on adhering to these. The core thoughts above lead to extreme diet and exercise that are fear driven. The scary thing is that you believe you are “healthy”. Unhealthy thoughts and emotions do not give rise to healthy behaviours.

It is then hard to let the action go, as that is who you believe you are and believe your worth is. You believe that if you don’t have this, then you don’t have anything. Eating disorders rob a person of who they are, all their talents, dreams, interests and passions.

To unlearn a lifetime of negative thoughts is difficult. Many people have no problem seeking treatment from a physiotherapist, chiropractor, sports coach or doctor for physical treatment or improvement. Seeking help for psychological issues seems harder for some. The need for support is not recognised as well as a fear of addressing the problem. Fear ruled my life.

False Evidence Appearing Real

False Evidence Appearing Real is the best explanation of the word ‘fear’ that I have ever heard. For so long I had believed the negative thoughts, and these had kept me trapped in a cycle of fear and guilt.

One of the best tools I learned was the image of a STOP sign every time my thoughts were going down a negative path. It sounds easy, but it is so hard to do and practice. The more I practised it, the more automatic it became. This action is the basis of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and replaced the negative thoughts. This process involved looking at all the positive qualities I had that I had forgotten. I backed these up by looking at my past achievements, letters or cards of appreciation I had received and activities I loved doing as little girl. I wrote these down. Then I placed them where I would see them all the time to remind myself to start to believing in them. Slowly, I began remembering my dreams that I’d abandoned and this gave me another focus.

Allowing Yourself to Rest and Relax

Believing I deserved to have time to relax, and do nice things for myself was tough. I felt guilty even thinking about not exercising or to have rest days. I also felt guilty when I ceased to doing things for others when exhausted. For me to do something relaxing like reading a book on the beach or to go out with friends brought on my guilt. I believed that if I stopped exercising for just one day that my body would blow out. It was an irrational thought but caused much fear for me.  I remember the first time I went out with my best friend of 21 years. I came home and cried feeling guilty in case anyone had seen me enjoying myself. You can rest! You can do relaxing things for yourself! You are worth it!

Educating Yourself About Your Body

Changing unhealthy thoughts about food and exercise is another reason that needs consideration. A person suffering an eating disorder or having a disordered eating pattern may think that their diet and exercise habits or bingeing and purging are acceptable and healthy. Sound research-based education on how your body functions and why we need certain nutrients is helpful as is understanding the damage done to the body.

The Word Kaizen

This word is one of the best I have ever heard. Kaizen essentially means to make small, continuous improvements, which at times may seem insignificant. The summation of these continuous improvements is changing. This word is how I see unlearning negative thoughts ingrained in my mind. One small step at a time. I believe all factors need addressing as isolating one part of recovery from another is unproductive.

I visualise a STOP sign when I have a negative thought. But initially, I first thought, ‘What is picturing a STOP sign going to do’? Then, I practised it; one negative thought at a time, over and over.  Over time I changed the thoughts to change my behaviour.

The first step to recovery is to accept help from a professional. The next step is to trust this professional so that you can dare believe that you are worth more than you imagine. You CAN recover. You CAN feel good about yourself. One little step at a time.

To find a specialist psychologist that deals with eating disorders, please contact organisations such as the Centre for Eating and Diet Disorders, Eating Disorders Victoria, The Butterfly Foundation, National Eating Disorders Collaboration or Shape Your Mind Psychology.

Alternatively, you can contact me, Eleni. I would love to chat with you. Just email me at info@brazengrowth.com.au

About Our Eating Disorder News and Review Columnist – Eleni Psillakis

IMG_0727Combining over 27-years experience in the fitness industry, education and a lived experience of eating disorder, Eleni Psillakis is raising awareness of eating disorders as serious mental illnesses. In this time as a group fitness instructor, personal trainer, secondary and tertiary educator, she is aware of the fine-line that may be crossed from healthy to unhealthy diet and exercise habits.

Using resistance training to gain weight to her 39kg frame at age 19, Eleni physically recovered and went on to compete in women’s bodybuilding. However the underlying emotional issues and thought patterns resurfaced 25-years later when her marriage broke down and she was diagnosed with clinical depression. Antidepressants and 8-years of psychological counselling, assisted with unlearning of negative thought processes that Eleni had of herself for most of her life. These were nothing to do with body image, but self-worth.

Resistance training again helped the process of stopping her thoughts racing during this time of depression and she stepped back onto the competition stage gaining a top 3 place in her division for each of the 5 competitions since. It was the psychological help that has made the difference this time around.


In 2016, Eleni received the ‘Inspiration Award’ at the prestigious FILEX health and fitness convention, an event that recognises excellence within the industry. Eleni won the award due to her commitment in promoting awareness of eating disorders and dedication to educating others in how to overcome feelings of self-loathing.


An Insight to Anorexia and Other Eating Disorders for Fitness Professionals”, a seminar that Eleni has written, has been approved by Fitness Australia for continuing education.

Eleni Logo

Disclaimer: The information published in this column are based on the author’s own professional and personal knowledge, and opinion. This information and opinion are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment of any manner. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding any medical condition and consult a qualified medical professional before beginning any nutritional program or exercise program. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on InShape News.

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