When my negative voice starts yapping, it can be tough to shut it up, especially after I’ve failed at something, regardless of how small that might be. I’m also a bit rigid (OK, very), and a hiccup in my day can mean a mountain of defeat.
This used to happen often when the diet mentality ruled my life. When I ate the wrong thing. When I saw someone who was prettier and skinnier. When I felt fat. Or when I thought being thin would bring happiness (on a worry-free, stunning silver platter).
Margarita Tartakovsky is an associate editor at PsychCentral.com, an award-winning mental health website, and the voice behind Weightless, a blog that helps women deal with body image issues and disordered eating. She also writes a monthly feature for Beliefnet.com, covering topics such as patience and procrastination.
Editor: Muhammad Talha
For you, does eating a cookie spark a catastrophe? Does feeling fat make you feel like an all-around failure and force you to stay in? Does looking at yourself in the mirror send a disgusted grimace to your face?
A few days ago, Melissa of the beautifully-written blog Finding Melissa, posted the following saying on Twitter (if you’d like to, follow me @Weightlessblog), which really resonated with me, and I think it will with you: “No failure; only feedback.”
In her post inspired by this saying, she writes:
A wise man once asked me what good had come out of my eating disorder. If it had happened so that something positive could come out of the whole experience; what would that positive be?
Sweet FA was my answer for a very long time.
But I was missing the point.
The everything happening for a reason approach doesn’t negate your bad experience, it doesn’t pretend that what you’ve been through was happy and pleasant and something you’d want to repeat (my issue with rose tinted glasses) – it just helps you to reframe it a little.
If you’re looking for the positive reason, then you can still acknowledge that the experience was hideous – but at least you’ve got something helpful out of it. If you’re focused on what you can use in the future, you don’t get quite so bogged down by it all.
She gives some examples of “failures” – really just negative things – and how she used them to get feedback:
Having my bathroom ripped out has resulted in me discovering that I can – contrary to my previous assumption – go swimming before work and enjoy it. Living in chaos has shown that – despite my particularly anal OCD – I am able to go to sleep without washing in a certain order or hanging my towels up freakishly straight.
Fracturing my ankle forced me to face the fact that I still have a slight tendency towards addictive behavior which I probably need to address. Getting a virus led to my West Wing discovery. Breaking my car radio showed me that I could bear silence for a little while – and sort out problems myself.
Eating disorder survivor and advocate Shannon Cutts talked about something similar in her book Beating Ana when it comes to relapse. (See part one and two of this week’s Q&A with Shannon). Relapse isn’t a setback, but an opportunity to strengthen your recovery, to check in with yourself and see what you need, what’s missing. She writes that relapse happens. Use your relapse as a time to learn, and to explore the reasons behind it.
If you’re working on improving your body image and becoming more accepting of yourself, view this process the same way: as an opportunity to gain feedback on what’s currently going on and what you need.
Here are a few ways you might transform your body image blues into learning opportunities. And, in general, try not to be so hard on yourself. So often we’re doing the best we can under the current circumstances. Which means take it easy and be kind to yourself. (I’m also saying this to myself.)
- You’re counting calories or are on a diet and your “willpower” (I hate when magazines use this word) is waning and you eat something you “shouldn’t” have or you overeat big time:This is far from a failure. More likely, it means that your body isn’t getting enough nutrients or calories to nourish it. Use this as an opportunity to start listening to your body cues and learn about intuitive eating. And seriously consider dropping the diet mentality, which teaches you to ignore your body’s needs.
- Feeling fat, what seems like all the time? Check in with yourself. Maybe you’re bloated, but it’s likely you’re stewing over some emotion. Take this as an opportunity to figure out what that feeling is. Are you upset, tense, anxious, angry? Don’t let “fat” feelings overshadow your genuine emotions. Even though I’m a body image blogger, I’m not immune to feeling fat, but as soon as I say “I feel fat” to myself, that becomes my signal to dig deeper.
- You keep missing your regularly scheduled workouts: Again, this becomes a good time to ask yourself why. Are you just exhausted, too busy to fit it in? Or do you feel like your exercise is too regimented, punishing or boring? Remember that there are tons of ways to be active and it’s really about finding a few activities that you enjoy. Do something that’s fun, whatever that physical activity may be. Do something that makes you happy.
- You hate your body or a certain body part repulses you: I’ve had many parts that disgusted me over the years. Have you? But instead of trying to shrink them or bash your body even more, consider learning how to accept your body and then even love it. Sure, it might seem like body hatred is a normal part of being a woman, but it isn’t. And it certainly doesn’t lead to a happy, fulfilling life. Find out ways to fully accept yourself, without having to alter your figure.
- You feel uncomfortable in your skin: I used to have days when I felt each and every roll on my body. And it repulsed me. I felt like wanting to crawl out of my skin. If this happens to you, use it to your advantage, though I know in the moment that might be tough. But practice helps! Ask yourself why you’re uncomfortable. Try to pinpoint exactly what it is, and then go from there.
I want to reiterate that powerful phrase: “No failure; only feedback.” Put it on your inspiration board, doodle the phrase in a notebook or commit it to memory. Whether it’s body image-related or not, these seemingly failed, good-for-nothing experiences can teach us something, no matter how small (a hiccup) or big (a mountain).
What “failures” have you had that you’ll now use as learning experiences? How can you view your body image in a more positive light?