Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Mindful Eating

Just recently, I discovered that my health scare last year involving blood pressure spikes and feeling like I was going to die, was not heart-related, but a series of panic attacks.

I had no idea how acute anxiety could present symptoms that feel similar to someone who is having a heart attack. This hit me out of the blue. As I was trying to keep things together what with the stress of a cross-country move coupled with  maintaining my perfectionist tendencies, it seemed like my nervous system was screaming “Enough!” Perfectionism can lead to chronic exhaustion, I discovered. I went for all manner of medical tests only to be told there’s nothing medically wrong with me.

Having signed up for psychologist, Dr. David Purves’ Cognitive Behavior Therapy course, The Panic Pit Stop, I learned the brain is extraordinarily complex. It is hard-wired to be able to respond to threat at a moment’s notice. When the threat is detected, the brain springs into action delivering the necessary biological resources, e.g. stress hormones to respond to the threat accordingly. A panic attack is thus the inappropriate trigger to a perceived threat.

I can see now how my brain finally flipped my body into panic mode what with years of catastrophic negative thought patterns caught in a perpetual loop. My body automatically carried out actions based on negative beliefs.

Case in point, I was tired because I participated in a pretty strenuous (for my ability level) yoga session the previous evening. My warped thinking told me tiredness is a bad thing. It equates to laziness or being less than perfect, thus effecting my value as a person.

My body has been trained to psychologically and physically feed low moods because for a brief period, certain foods elevate my mood, but then I feel badly for not exercising discipline over what I put into my mouth – something I have to be mindful of as I’m carrying too much weight. So, this kind of perpetual anxiety-inducing thinking (not only about food) but about all aspects of my life was bound to escalate into full-blown panic attacks.

Because I was focusing on correcting negative thought patterns in other areas, I allowed myself to have a nap (without feeling guilty.) When I awoke, as though on auto-pilot I went straight to the fridge to fix myself a snack of whole wheat crackers and salmon cream cheese (reduced fat) before going to my yoga class. Okay, it’s not an unhealthy snack, but it’s my body’s automatic association with food to medicate tiredness that I needed to be aware of. Let’s see how I fared on the Hunger Scale:

Hunger Scale 1 to 10 (1 = least hungry, 10 = most hungry)

 Eye  Nose  Mouth  Stomach  Cellular  Mind Heart 
1 1 3 5 7 10 10

Clearly, my mind and heart hunger were highly in need of nourishment other than food. Now, I’m writing this particular post with a view to exposing and breaking my perfectionist tendency about feeling the need to have PERFECT mindful behaviour about my eating patterns. I wanted to be able to write that I practice Mindful eating with fantastic results!  Who am I kidding? Only myself, right?

Together with the practice of Mindfulness, I first need to break my habit of negative and catastrophic thought. Dr. Purves says automatic behaviour (like feeling the need for food to comfort low mood) is likely to be habit of thoughts that take you down that slippery slope. Unfortunately, most of us in our modern, frenetic world, operate “mindlessly” on auto-pilot, as it were. Dr. Purves says once you become aware (mindful) of your behaviour, you have the beginning of CHOICE. You have the awareness of the option of undoing a negative thought pattern.

Dr. Purves’ The Panic Pit Stop offers techniques and strategies to break the loop of a negative thought pattern. So, today, instead of putting pressure on myself to “perform” in order to feel validated, I chose the option to be kind to myself instead. Unlearning bad habits is by no means easy but the more diligently one practices to be Mindful, the “choice muscles” get stronger.

I would like to be able to post more frequently, but I need to not feed perfectionism as I try to better balance my life. So, bear with me as I continue on this quest in the spirit of Mindfulness – “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally, moment by moment.”

I would love to know how you cope with overcoming anxiety and perfectionism and how you practice Mindful eating. I look forward to reading your comments.

For more information about David Purves’ The Panic Pit Stop click on the following link:



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