Poor Body Image and Thought Records

Posted by: Center for Growth Therapists

Center for Growth / Body Image Therapy in Philadelphia: Completing a Thought Record to Address Poor Body Image

It is common for individuals living in Philadelphia to struggle with self-confidence about their body and appearance from time to time. Many experience occasional negative thoughts about how they look, or how they think are perceived.  However, just because you have a thought, does not mean it is the truth. For some individuals who struggle with poor body image, they develop a distorted perception about how they look, and how others view them. For example, “My nose is too crooked, everyone at school will see how bad I look. No one will want to be with me.” Our thoughts our running constantly, and can be so powerful that they can impact how we feel. When negative thoughts become this powerful, they can impact self-confidence so severely that it interferes with areas of life from work, social life, as well as your sex life.

Completing a thought record is a great exercise frequently used at The Center for Growth / Body Image Therapy in Philadelphia for individuals with poor body image to complete on a regular basis. A thought record is designed to walk you through the process of your negative thinking, with the goal of challenging and clarifying your thinking. It is best recommended that you complete a thought record on paper for every negative thought (ideally as soon as the thought occurred) or when anticipating a situation where you believe your negative thoughts about your appearance will be triggered.

The overall mission is to master these steps, where you begin to think and view situations through this lens of identifying, challenging, and restructuring your thoughts. To help you identify the impact the record has, on a scale of 1-10, (10 being high anxiety, 1 being practically none), rank where your anxiety falls in the moment of having a negative thought, prior to completing the thought record.

Body Image Step one: Identify the Triggering Situation.

Write down the situation you were in when you had the negative thought.

For example: “I was looking in my bedroom mirror getting dressed for work, and I couldn’t find an outfit that fit.”

Body Image Step Two: Identifying the Automatic Thought.

Write down the immediate, negative thought you had in response to the situation. What was going through your mind as once you were triggered? To continue with the example in step one, here is an example of an automatic thought: “I’m too fat to fit in anything, I can’t talk to anyone looking like this.” Or, “How will anyone at work take me seriously?”

Body Image Step Three: Identifying the emotions.

Write down how you felt in response to the thought. Did you feel: Angry, hopeless, lonely, sad, unhappy, shameful, hurt, frustrated, or guilty?

Body Image Step Four: Identifying Identifying the Distorted Thinking.

Distorted thinking, also known as cognitive distortion is our mind convincing us of something that isn’t true. It’ s a faulty way of thinking. These inaccurate thoughts tend to reinforce our negative perception of ourselves, while believing this to be rational and true. However, in the end, our distorted thoughts only help us feed into the negative merry-go-round that we are on in our minds. To continue with the example of the individual struggling to get dressed for work. The individual in this example may say, “I always look horrible in my clothes, no one will ever want to date me looking like this.” This is an example of all-or-nothing thinking. This person only sees things in absolutes; in her mind it can only be one extreme or the other, there is nothing in between as an option. She is only all good or all bad. When identifying your distorted thoughts, it is possible to identify more than one per thought. This current example demonstrates more than one distorted thought. Fortune telling is another example of this individual’s distorted thinking. She is predicting a negative outcome without any real basis. How does she know for sure that no one will ever want to date her because of how she looks in her clothes?


To help you better identify your distorting thoughts, refer to this tip for an overview of common distorted thoughts:

Body Image Step Five: Challenging Your Thought and Identifying an Alternative.

At this point you have identified your negative thoughts and false thinking, now it’s time to give these thoughts a little challenge, and an alternative view. Challenging your negative thinking is your first step to identifying an alternative view or an alternative response. This is your way of talking back to your negative thoughts. It can be a challenge at first, but look at it as working out a really weak muscle. Most likely in the past you have conditioned your mind to submit to your negative and false thinking, but with this step you are taking the essential step in restructuring your thought process. Take a look at your identified distorted thoughts as a way to help you challenge the thought and find your alternative response. For example, in the previous step, we identified the woman struggling to get dressed for work was fortune telling and demonstrating all-or-nothing thinking. A way for her to challenge the fortune telling is: “I have no way of knowing for sure that every future date will turn me down because how I’m dressed, I can’t predict the future.” To challenge the all-or-nothing: “Actually, I love how I look in that black dress, I’m just so frustrated right now I’m forgetting about what’s actually good in my closet.” Your job in this process is to thinking like a judge in a court of law, or play detective. As a judge or detective you often ask questions to get to the bottom of things, so here you will do the same by asking questions like the following: What evidence do I have that this is true? Is there another way I could look at this situation? On a scale of 1-10, (10 being absolutely true, 1 being false) How accurate is this thought that I’m having? Will this thought help me get to where I want to be? Here’s a complete example of challenging a thought and identifying an alternative response: “This outfit doesn’t help me feel my best, but that’s not the case with all of my clothes. I change my mind about my style and appearance a lot. I can’t predict that my co-workers will even notice how I’m dressed today, and I can’t predict what kind of people I will end up on dates with in the future. Besides, I want people to appreciate me for who I am not, how I look on one particular day.”

Now that you have completed your thought record, rank your anxiety again. Have you noticed a difference? Ideally your anxiety has been lowered and you feel calmer. If you don’t feel calmer just yet, continue to complete this exercise as often as possible as a way to get adjusted to this way of thinking.

Still Struggling?  Call and speak with a therapist today.  Help is available 267 324 9564 Center for Growth / Body Image Therapy in Philadelphia.