All of us, at some point in our lives, have bashed our bodies. And for some of us, it’s as routine as brushing our teeth: In the morning, as we crack open one eye and catch our reflection in the mirror, we instantly notice how fat our arms are. We say some snide remark to ourselves about their pitiful shape. After lunch, we comment to ourselves about the thickness of our thighs. After dinner, we think about our bulging bellies. At night, we do a full body scan in the mirror and just say “Ugh” before collapsing into bed, falling asleep to a litany of negative thoughts.
I’m just too fat. I wish I were a size six. What’s up with all these rolls around my stomach? They complement me but I really don’t look that good today. Are those the signs of a double chin? All this salad-eating and the scale still hasn’t budged?
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
These types of thoughts can slowly sabotage our efforts to improve our body image. They may prevent us from accepting ourselves as we are, right now, at this very instant, not five or 20 pounds from now. Bashing our bodies can not only lead to body dissatisfaction but also to life dissatisfaction.
According to Teri Hugo Hirss, the expressive movement therapist at Green Mountain at Fox Run, a healthy living and weight loss retreat in Vermont:
“Self-compassion and self-acceptance are the cornerstones of shifting how we feel about our body. Continual judgment and criticism of our bodies keeps us locked in a perpetual cycle of dissatisfaction with not only our bodies, but with our lives.”
However, she explains, “It is possible to learn to view our body as our friend and ally and live a happy and confident life with the proper tools.”
You can slowly chip away at these damaging thoughts and create a more positive perspective. One of the great tools they use at Green Mountain involves retraining your thoughts. Marsha Hudnall, MS, RD, director of Green Mountain and blogger at one of my favorite blogs, A Weight Lifted, laid out the exercise. (By the way, I’ve had the great pleasure of interviewing Marsha before. I love her philosophies on healthy eating and healthy living overall.)
Here’s the exercise:
Identify one negative thought. Marsha calls this a “loop” that frequently plays in your head. Then, write down that negative thought.
And ask yourself these questions:
1) How does this thought affect me?
2) Where did I learn it?
3) Is it logical?
4) Is it true?
Next, Marsha explains, “Write down another more encouraging, positive, kinder and true thought to replace the negative one. Then practice using that new thought each time the old one arises.”
For instance, a common thought for many women is, “If I don’t lose weight or if I’m not thin enough, no one will want me.” That’s a terrible (and untrue) thought that can lead us to unhealthy behaviors and an obsession with our appearance – instead of a focus on self-acceptance and health. If that’s your loop, consider replacing it with “If someone evaluates me based on my weight, he or she doesn’t deserve me.” Or “I don’t want to be with such a person anyway.” Or “I am beautiful, both inside and out.”
If you’d like, try this out in the comments. What is a frequent negative thought that runs through your head? What’s a positive one you can use to replace it?
Stay tuned tomorrow for my interview with Kendra Sebelius, an amazing eating disorder advocate (in the meantime, check out her Facebook page, A Voice in Recovery).