Last Friday, we talked about ways to silence the eating disorder voice. Though I’ve never suffered from an eating disorder, I can relate to another voice, the voice that says you’re a failure, you’re unworthy, you’re fat, you feel fat, you can’t wear that, and you aren’t good, pretty, skinny and fit enough.
It’s the voice that gnaws at you, that beckons you to bring out the scale, that extols the virtues of dieting, that says you need to exercise more, that says you’re supposed to look like the images you see.
We’ll call this the negative voice. A voice that I believe most of us have, regardless of the many great qualities we possess.
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: Saad Shaheed
Oftentimes it seems to come out of nowhere. It might speak up when you’re in the fitting room, when you’re going to the gym, when you’re getting ready for dinner, when you’re eating, when you’re focused on a project for work, when you’re walking down the street.
One of the toughest parts about silencing that negative voice is that it sounds suspiciously similar to our own voice.
Here are a few tips I’ve gathered and some I try to use to help separate and silence that voice:
1. Create positive affirmations. I just finished reading Esther Kane’s book, It’s Not About the Food: A Woman’s Guide to Making Peace With Food and Our Bodies (stay tuned for the review and a giveaway!). In it, she spells out the recipe for creating powerful affirmations. On her clients creating affirmations, she writes, “I have seen so many women begin to see food and their bodies in an entirely different way and to start to feel good about how they eat, what they eat and how they look as a result.”
Here’s the thing: Many people think affirmations are cheesy and silly. Maybe. But most likely, they’re just very unfamiliar to you, especially if the negative voice has been so loud for so long.
Esther suggests that your affirmation: be in the present tense, feature powerful, positive words, be short and too good to be true (that’s right; nothing you’d normally say to yourself).
Your affirmation can be about food, body image, your self-image … whatever helps you counter your core negative beliefs (i.e. those general beliefs you have about yourself and the world). For instance, your core belief may be that you’ll only be happy if you’re thinner. Another, an example Esther uses in her book, is “I’m not good enough.”
Write your affirmations on an index card and carry it with you, Esther suggests. She says that it’s OK if you don’t believe them at first. These are a few of my fave examples from the book:
I am a strong, incredibly bright and articulate woman with important things to say.
Food gives me the energy I need to live my life to the fullest.
My body is a dear friend that allows me to experience so many things: seeing, tasting, smelling, touching and hearing.
At first, you may feel like a fraud. That negative voice may be the only one you know. That negative voice might seem like the most authentic voice you’ve got. It isn’t.
In last Monday’s tips, eating disorder survivor and advocate Andrea Roe talked about how uncomfortable saying just one nice thing about herself felt, but it soon started to work:
I would look in the mirror and say something nice about myself. I would say “I love you” and “I am beautiful.” I did that every day. Yes, it was very painful. I felt like I was lying to myself. I *knew* I was ugly and worthless and saying all these *nice things* just felt so wrong. But I stuck with it. And after some time, the things I said slowly started to feel real and I slowly started to like my appearance. Baby steps.
2. Tackle distorted thinking. That negative voice you hear from time to time (or on a regular basis) is nothing more than erroneous beliefs chirping away. And you know what? They have no clue what they’re talking about. That’s a fact. There are many types of cognitive distortions, including mind reading and all-or-nothing thinking. Here are 15 common cognitive distortions.
Even if you aren’t able to challenge your distortions, the goal is to recognize that they exist. That’s already making progress. That voice that says everyone is watching you and thinking you’re huge is inaccurate because that’s mind reading, and for 99.9 percent of us that’s impossible. That voice that says you’re unattractive is merely labeling, or generalizing. As Esther writes, you call yourself unattractive when you only dislike a few things about your looks.
3. Dig deeper. Whether your body image is nonexistent or in not-so-bad shape, you’ve probably heard the voice that says, “I feel so fat.” Exploring your emotions beyond the “I feel fat” phrase strips your negative voice of power. Yes, you might feel bloated or like you ate too much. But more often than not, you feel frustrated, angry, upset, uneasy, anxious. Heck, maybe you’re just exhausted.
Put a name to your feelings and try to work through them. It’s not easy but it feels oh-so empowering when you tell that voice to be quiet and listen to what your heart and soul are trying to tell you. Set the negative voice aside. It’s a red herring. It distracts you from the important work, from digging deeper past the flashing lights of criticism that divert your attention to get at your core.
4. Account for the positives. Discounting the positives is a common cognitive distortion. I wanted to highlight it here because it’s important. This doesn’t mean looking at life through Pollyanna-rose-colored glasses, but it does mean adjusting your attitude. And a positive attitude can start to chip away at that negative voice.
You can start small. Here are a few options.
- For one day, simply be positive. Look on the brighter side. If a negative thought pops in, quickly replace it with a positive one. For instance, the thought “My thighs are enormous” comes in, and automatically you say, “Oh, well, they’re strong and have carried me to many places for many years,” or “Maybe I don’t love my thighs, but I love my eyes” (rhyming optional). If you’re worried about a dinner date because you may make the “wrong” food choice, focus less on what food you’ll choose and more on your company. Be thankful for your company. Or be positive by saying you’ll tune into what your body wants and eat mindfully. Basically, turn a potentially negative thought, attitude or outlook into a positive one. Whatever negative thoughts come your way, dismiss them. Just for one day. See how your day goes.
- Say the opposite. Your negative voice says you look horrible; turn that around and say you look great.
- Pick out your positive qualities. Because guess what, I bet there are many! Give yourself at least some credit. Acknowledge what’s great about you. Julie, who writes one of my fave blogs, Beautiful You, wrote recently:
I believe we all have a little bit of magic inside us. A skill. A talent. A way with words or unique way of giving that can make a difference to others.
5. Let go of perfection. How many of you wait to start a certain project because you’ve got Mt. Everest-expectations? (That would be me.) How many of you wait till you’re the perfect size to buy new clothes or wear nice clothes in general? (That used to be me.) How many of you have felt that a day is ruined if you’ve eaten past your allotted calorie amount? If you’ve had a piece of cake? How many of you nit-pick at your bodies? (That was allll me.)
Call it perfectionism, rigid thinking or single-mindedness (not in a worldly way). But the negative voice is all these things. It clings to the smallest mistakes or supposed imperfections and starts bashing.
Maybe your perfectionism is getting flat abs, sculpted thighs or losing five pounds. Maybe your rigid thinking is your diet mentality, following the directions of some diet to the tee, and knowing you’re the epitome of failure if you eat something you’re not supposed to.
Whatever flaws you think you have, remember that life is messy. It’s filled with jagged edges.
How can our bodies be “perfect” when life is so far from it? And what is perfection, anyway? I, too, have a tough time with perfectionistic thinking, but I try to remember that nothing, absolutely nothing, is perfect. There’s beauty in that.
For ways to overcome perfectionism, see here and here.
6. Stop editing yourself. Even as I write this post, I’m constantly editing myself, trying to pick out the best words, wondering whether something sounds stupid or silly, wondering if readers will find this helpful, worried that they’ll hate it. This ties in with the idea of perfection.
The negative voice thrives on self-doubt and second-guessing. Maybe you second-guess your worthbecause you dislike your weight. Maybe you doubt that giving up dieting will actually lead to greater health, a more positive body image and self-confidence.
Here are five ways to conquer self-doubt from the blog Zen Habits.
7. Create a new voice. I think many of the tips that I covered in Friday’s post on silencing the ED voice are also helpful in silencing the negative voice. The tips came from my interviews with women who’ve recovered from eating disorders and from Shannon Cutts in her must-read book, Beating Ana: How to Outsmart Your Eating Disorder and Take Your Life Back.
One of my fave tips is creating a new voice. Here’s an excerpt from that tip. Just substitute “negative voice” for “eating disorder voice,” and you’ll see just how relevant this is.
Shannon suggests creating a new voice that’s strong, resilient, reassuring, empathetic and kind, a voice that picks you back up when the ED voice rears its ugly head. “You may have to literally create the voice from scratch, using your imagination about how you would like to be treated (not how you think you deserve to be treated or how the eating disorder voice tells you that you deserve to be treated) or how you would treat someone else who was suffering like you are.”
Even if you can’t eliminate the negative voice, even if you still hear it, remember that you can render it powerless. You don’t have to listen. It can talk all it wants, but you’ll just ignore it. That voice cannot and will not distract you from living and discounting all the positive things you have going for yourself and your life.
When does your negative voice start talking? What does it say? How will you silence it?