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  • Writer's pictureCatherine Lott

Break Free From 'What-Iffing'

Updated: Jun 26, 2023

Transforming Thinking Styles to Combat Eating Disorders

Anxiety is relentless. It infiltrates our thoughts, drains our physical energy and clouds our judgement.

One common thinking pattern that accompanies anxiety is 'what-iffing.'

This particular cognitive habit involves incessantly asking, "What if?" and dwelling on hypothetical scenarios, usually focusing on negative outcomes.

This constant anticipation of potential dangers itself fuels our anxiety and can have detrimental effects on mental health. When it comes to eating disorders, 'what-iffing' can become particularly insidious, exacerbating disordered eating patterns and perpetuating a cycle of distress.

However, there is a powerful technique that can help break free from this cycle: replacing 'what if?' with what is.

In this article, I will explore the relationship between anxiety-based 'what-iffing' and eating disorders, and delve into the benefits of adopting a more present-focused mindset.

The Link Between Anxiety, 'What-Iffing,' and Eating Disorders:

Anxiety disorders and eating disorders are really closely connected, sharing intricate connections.

Anxiety-based 'what-iffing' involves playing out hypothetical worst-case scenarios in our minds, creating a false sense of certainty that danger lurks around every corner. In the context of eating disorders, this thinking style can fuel the obsessive thoughts and worries that commonly accompany these disorders. For example, someone with anorexia nervosa may constantly question, "What if I gain weight?" or "What if I start eating and lose control?" These questions feed into the intense fear and anxiety surrounding food, body image, and weight gain, reinforcing disordered behaviours and making recovery even more challenging.

Replacing 'What If?' with What Is:

The practice of replacing 'what if?' with what is offers a powerful tool for addressing anxiety-based 'what-iffing' and its link to eating disorders. This technique involves shifting our focus from hypothetical worries to the present moment, fostering mindfulness and grounding in reality. By cultivating an awareness of what is happening right now, we can interrupt the spiralling anxious thoughts and regain a sense of control over our emotions and behaviours.

Benefits of Adopting a Present-Focused Mindset:

  1. Reducing Anxiety: By concentrating on the present moment, we can decrease anxiety levels. When we shift our attention away from future uncertainties, we can break free from the grip of anxious thoughts, allowing ourselves to experience a greater sense of calm and tranquillity

  2. Increased Self-Awareness: Replacing 'what if?' with what is encourages self-reflection and introspection. By focusing on the present, we can become more attuned to our emotions, physical sensations, and needs. This heightened self-awareness paves the way for better understanding our relationship with food and body image, creating a foundation for recovery.

  3. Encouraging Mindful Eating: Mindful eating involves savouring each bite, paying attention to hunger and fullness cues, and cultivating a non-judgemental attitude towards food. By practicing what is instead of 'what if?' during meal times, we can start to fully engage in the experience of eating, fostering a healthier and more balanced relationship with food.

  4. Embracing Acceptance: A present-focused mindset promotes acceptance of the current reality, including our body shape, size, and the fluctuations that will occur. By embracing acceptance, we can work towards developing a more compassionate and positive self-image, reducing the pressure to conform to unattainable beauty standards.

  5. Supporting Recovery: Replacing 'what if?' with what is can be a valuable tool in the journey towards recovery from eating disorders. By breaking free from the cycle of anxiety and constant 'what-iffing,' we can redirect our energy towards developing healthier coping strategies, building our support system and seeking professional help.

If you're struggling, reach out for help. You may not be able to imagine a life in which you're free of the anxious thinking and preoccupation with food and weight and eating, but recovery is always possible.


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