After the holidays, I heard a familiar refrain from people ” I ate too much”, “I was such a pig over the holidays.” “Why did I eat a second dessert?!” You may be a member of this chorus.
Too often, an accompanying note includes “I’m fat.” “I hate the way I look.” “I have to go on a diet.” Beating yourself up about what you ate and how you look is painful and unproductive. It undermines your self-confidence.
Sharon Haywood, body image activist, who told her personal story last year to the Confidence Chronicles, has four tips you can put into practice immediately to stop negative self-talk about your body, as well as a tip related to how you eat. (Not to worry, it’s NOT another diet!)
Sharon, what tips do you have for people to deal with their negative thinking or self-esteem issues related to body image?
1. I think one of the most powerful things, which has worked for me over the years, is tuning into self-talk whether it be fat talk, or aging/ “old” talk and flipping it on its head. I still go back to it when I have a bad day.
One of the techniques I use is based on the concept of cognitive dissonance, which is really powerful. Essentially if we have two thoughts at the same time that are conflicting, we are uncomfortable with that and seek to marry the two because we can’t live in a constant state of conflict.
So, applying that to body image, if you dislike your appearance in some way and find yourself thinking or saying how ugly how you are or you hate your nose, or your freckles or whatever it is, stop yourself in the moment and tell yourself something positive, such as I love my nose, or my freckles or my hips are gorgeous.
Even if you don’t believe it, say it anyway because eventually you will. It’s an incredible technique and I’ve seen the transformation in myself after using it repeatedly. I may not love my stomach but I sure as heck don’t hate it and I know a large part of why I feel that way is because I’ve used this technique.
2. The thought-stop technique is very similar to the technique I just mentioned.
I remember reading in Glamour awhile ago that women have, on average, thirteen negative thoughts about their bodies every single day. That’s huge. Huge.
So that gives us a lot of opportunity for change. Tune into that monologue in your head. The moment you have a negative thought about yourself, tell yourself, “Stop!” and replace it with a positive one. The effects will happen gradually, don’t expect the change to be immediate, so keep practicing this technique.
You’ll be uncomfortable saying positive things because you feel like you’re lying to yourself. I say “fake it til you make it”. Lie to yourself using positive thoughts you have trouble believing about yourself, and eventually you’ll start to act in more concordance with those positive statements. The effects will happen gradually, so don’t expect the change to be immediate.
3. Become media literate. Question what you see and hear in the media. Be aware you don’t have to passively consume and accept the messages you hear daily. Are the images of women in magazines “real” or have they been touched up and altered. In other words, is the purported standard for you to live up to even real or possible?
4. Tune into your body’s signals, especially related to food and eating (Intuitive eating).
There’s an incredible little book by Susie Orbach On Eating. It outlines the basic tenets of intuitive eating, which is about tuning into your body signals of hunger and satiety rather than moving around in the world according to what external sources tell you what you should do. “Eat lunch now.” “Eat supper now.”
I highly recommend that people get off the dieting cycle of losing and gaining weight, which plagues so many women and men. Listen to your body. Are you actually hungry or are you feeding some emotional need? The first step towards change is having a greater awareness of your choices around food.
I certainly know I eat at times when I’m not hungry because it’s supper time, or someone is offering me food when I visit them.
There are so many reasons why we eat and very few have to do with our physical hunger signals. Often we’re emotionally hungry for something else. Everybody’s eating patterns are very individual but what most of us have in common is that we don’t listen to our body signals.
Susie Orbach says in her book that we don’t do that with our urge to pee. Do we hold it until a certain time? Do we try to control that? No, we listen to it. When the body says to empty our bladder we do. We need to take the same approach to eating.
So many of our eating choices are unconscious habits. It’s becoming more conscious on a holistic level, not just awareness of our thinking but also aware of what our body is telling us.
Cherry: Those are excellent tips, Sharon. Thank you. Whether my readers are cognizant of any of them or not, they serve as an excellent reminder of how to keep our selves in balance and self confident.