by Marsha Hudnall, MS, RDN, CD President & Co-owner, Green Mountain at Fox Run
“I hate my body…. I’m embarrassed about my belly… My thighs are too big… Put on a bathing suit? You must be kidding! I don’t want anyone to see what I really look like.”
What woman has uttered words like this before, then gotten caught up in the behaviors they spawn? Maybe the better question is, what woman hasn’t?
When we look at it this way, it’s easy to see how this type of thinking can keep you stuck and form a major barrier to participating fully in the fun things in life. When a person feels bad about herself, she certainly doesn’t feel like spending a day at the beach. And when she does end up there, she’s likely to spend her time comparing herself with others, counting the ways she falls short. Certainly, that’s not a recipe for fun or positive change.
Negative Self-Talk Doesn’t Let Your Personal Beauty Shine Through
How we think about ourselves has a decisive impact on how we take care of ourselves and, hence, how we look and feel.
- When we’re negative about ourselves, we’re less likely to feed ourselves well.
- If we are consumed with negative self-talk, 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.
As a result, weight gain often occurs, and that’s usually not something that makes anyone feel good about themselves on the beach. If we’re already above our healthy weight, negative feelings about ourselves also form a major barrier to healthy weight loss.
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.
“We are what we think,” says Green Mountain’s program director Erin Risius, MA, LPC. “When our thoughts default to negative self-talk, it only adds fuel to the fire of poor body image. It’s an auto-pilot that keeps a person rooted in feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, in lieu of self-acceptance and self-compassion. ”
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. These mindfulness tools enable us to get rid of the judgment that produces a negative body image and interferes with our attempts to achieve and maintain health and healthy weights.
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.
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, Beautiful Person, I Will Become One
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, regardless of what our bodies look like. As we feel better about ourselves, we can feel more motivated to do the things that make us feel good and happy.
If we choose to respond with actions that make us feel better, we begin an upward cycle that moves our bodies towards health and wellbeing. Our thoughts take on a more positive tone and our feelings about ourselves become more positive, which then makes it easier to act more positively.
If we keep up this practice for a while, we’ll 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’ll 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 are that healthy person. It’s no longer an act but reality.
We are beautiful on the beach and everywhere else, too.