"What good is losing a couple of pounds? I need to lose 50!" "I never manage to get to the gym. It's useless!" "I just don't have enough willpower to stick to healthy eating."
Do these sound like things you've said to yourself lately? Negative self-talk is something everyone does. But for people with diabetes, it's much more common, says John Zrebiec, LICSW, director of behavioral health at Joslin Diabetes Center.
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"We've found that people with diabetes tend to describe themselves in much more negative ways than people who don't have diabetes. 'I'm lazy. I don't have any self-control. I just keep making bad choices.'"
You can muffle that critical inner voice using techniques from a form of therapy called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). "How you think translates into how you act, so CBT focuses on changing how people think about something in order to act more positively," Zrebiec says.
Start by pinpointing the kinds of negative thoughts you typically have, and what they do.
All-or-nothing thinking. These kinds of thoughts frame your experiences and behavior as totally good or totally bad (usually bad). Maybe you ate really well for a few weeks, and then you gave in at the office holiday party and overdid it. "I was doing great and then that one party completely ruined it!"
Moral judgments, or "blaming and shaming." When you don't measure up to your expectations, you think you're a "bad person." "I should be able to eat right and go to the gym every day. I'm a smart person. There must be something wrong with me since I can't do this."
Rationalization. These thoughts can be seductive -- you talk yourself out of the behavior you know you need to pursue. "I can't exercise right now. I'm too busy to go to the gym. But I'll start walking outside as soon as the weather warms up."
Once you spot these negative thought patterns, start talking back to yourself in a different way. Ask yourself: Is this thought true? Is it logical? Where did I learn this thought? Does it help me reach my goal?
"Look at what the evidence tells you about the answers to these questions," Zrebiec says. "Instead of judging yourself harshly or painting things in black and white, you can begin to recognize that you're not a 'failure' every time you slip, and focus on doing better next time. The more you practice this, the more you'll be able to learn to act in a smart and positive way, even when you have these negative thoughts."
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