Talking Back to The Internal Critic: CBT Skills

Woman in glasses

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a therapy approach that helps people shift their thoughts so they can feel better and change any unwanted behaviors. Thoughts have a ripple effect. The way someone thinks directly impacts how they feel and act.

This approach can be helpful during eating disorder recovery. Many people with eating disorders feel critical about themselves [1]. Some eating disorder treatment professionals refer to the self-criticism as someone’s critical voice or internal critic [1].

The Internal Critic

It’s important to be able to confront or talk back to the internal critic if these thoughts contribute to someone’s eating disorder behaviors. Here’s an example of how this could look:

Someone might purge when looking in the mirror and staring at themselves and thinking that they look bad. To stop purging, it might help to try and change how someone speaks to themselves while looking in the mirror.

Another example is if someone compulsively exercises after meals because they feel guilty about what they ate. The guilt may be linked to false beliefs about how much food their body actually needs. Using CBT and gaining knowledge about how to nurture themselves appropriately can help lessen the guilt after meals.

This may sound too good to be true because changing the way we think can be really difficult. This might be especially true for people with eating disorders since disordered thoughts often create a lot of anxiety and insecurity.

CBT Can Help

This is why it can be helpful to have support from a therapist who is trained in CBT so they can help you change the way you think. This support can be really helpful because sometimes people are not aware of the negative or disordered thoughts they have.

Woman dealing with eating disorder and in CBT therapyA therapist trained in CBT can help someone sort through this and figure out where change needs to happen. Fortunately, there are some things that you can do outside of therapy to begin gaining insight into the way you think.

One way to do this is to write down the critical or negative thoughts you already know you have. For people struggling with disordered eating, the thoughts may be about body image, body shape and size, exercise, food, or other disordered behaviors.

However, people may also have thoughts about their relationships with friends or family, school, work, or other things in their life that contribute to them feeling upset. Writing all of these out is a good place to start.

It’s also helpful to journal after something has made you upset. This can shed light on negative thoughts that you may not realize that you have.

For example, someone may feel upset after finding out they were not invited to a friend’s birthday party. After discovering this, they may engage in eating disorder behaviors to change the way their body looks. If they journal about this situation and why it upset them, they might discover they believe more people will like them if their body looks a certain way.

These types of beliefs are important to be aware of because they might be driving someone’s eating disorder, and they may not be aware of it. It can be difficult to do this work.

Sitting with your feelings and thoughts is equally brave and hard. If you shift your thoughts to be more realistic and positive, then it’ll probably be worth it.


[1] Costin, C. & Schubert-Grabb, G. (2012). 8 keys to recovery from an eating disorder. W.W. Norton & Company.

About the Author:

Samantha Bothwell PhotoSamantha Bothwell, LMFT, is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, writer, explorer, and lipstick aficionado. She became a therapist after doing her own healing work so she could become whole after spending many years living with her mind and body disconnected. She has focused her clinical work to support the healing process of survivors of sexual violence and eating disorders. She is passionate about guiding people in their return to their truest Self so they can live their most authentic, peaceful life.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published March 24, 2021, on
Reviewed & Approved on March 24, 2021, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC