I hate my body….I feel defeated…Why try to take care of myself?…I eat for comfort…I eat too much and don’t have the energy to go for a walk.
Who has uttered these words before, then gotten caught up in the behaviors they spawn? Maybe the better question is who hasn’t? When we look at it this way, it’s easy to see how this type of thinking can form a major barrier to success.
When a person who struggles with eating and weight feels bad about herself, she often turns to food as a source of comfort, or even punishment. She certainly doesn’t feel like taking a refreshing walk around the block or engaging in some other form of fun physical activity.
The Downward Cycle of Hating Our Bodies (Negative Body Image)
“My friends don’t even ask me to go out with them anymore. They know I won’t go. I know when we get to the club, I’ll end up sitting by myself. No one will ask me to dance.” As she told us this, Sandy visibly sank further into depression. It was easy to see the truth in her story. Sandy’s demeanor reflected her certainty she would not have fun while out with friends. It was a face she surely shows while at a club. Who would want to ask someone so clearly unhappy to dance?
Whether out with friends or at home alone, how we think about ourselves and our body image has a decisive impact on our behaviors.
Where Negative Self-Talk Takes Us
- When we’re negative about ourselves, we’re less likely to feed ourselves well.
- We rarely have the motivation or energy to get off the couch (or out of bed) and move to make our bodies feel better.
- If we’re emotional eaters, negative thinking about ourselves can be a trigger to eat when we’re not hungry, or even binge.
- Bingeing and isolating ourselves can represent forms of self-punishment that make us feel even more discouraged and depressed.
Stop and Think to Improve Body Image
Perhaps the most surprising thing about this type of negative thinking is that we often don’t know when we’re engaging in it. Many times, we’ve developed the habit of thinking about a certain subject (our bodies) in a certain way (negatively).
And it’s often not just one thought but several. “Thoughts that fire together wire together,” says Darla Breckenridge, former Green Mountain behaviorist. “We tend to develop a number of thoughts that have to do with one issue. When we think one, our minds invariably go to the others, too.” Awareness is the first step in stopping that automatic thought process.
How do we become aware? Practice the attitudes of mindfulness.
The attitudes of mindfulness are so powerful because they allow us to see what we’re thinking and give us the tools to get rid of the judgment that produces a negative body image and makes us feel bad about ourselves.
The simple act of breathing can also help us tune in to the present moment, to notice what we are thinking and make the choice to let go of negative thoughts.
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Try this Technique to Get into the Moment
- Stop what you are doing.
- Take a deep breath (or several).
- Tune into your body.
- How is it feeling?
- What is causing that feeling? What were you thinking that caused you to feel that way?
If I Think and Act Like a Healthy Person, I Can Improve My Health
After we become aware, it’s time to make a choice. How do we deal with negative thoughts and the difficult feelings that result – by doing something that helps manage them, or doing something that makes us feel worse?
We may discover that our habit is to respond negatively. But again, by stopping to think, we can also discover we have choices to respond differently.
An improved body image can help us feel better about ourselves, independent of weight loss. As we feel better about ourselves, we can feel more motivated to create change for health and healthy weights.
If we choose to respond with actions that make us feel better, we begin an upward cycle that moves our bodies towards health and well-being. Our thoughts take on a more positive tone…our feelings about ourselves become more positive…it’s easier to act more positively.
Keep that up for a while, and we find we’ve created a whole new habit – one of taking care of ourselves, feeding ourselves well, moving our bodies regularly and generally doing what’s needed to feel and be well. We also find we’ve established a whole new way of thinking about ourselves that keeps us acting in our own best interests.
Over time, we become that healthy person.* It’s no longer an act but reality.
I’m doing the best I can…I feel hopeful…I keep working towards my goal.
Even though I may not be where I want to be in right now, I’ve got a lot to contribute…I feel optimistic…I do the things I want to do.
*Note that health can be defined differently for each person; the goal is to feel the best that is possible given individual circumstances.