Overcoming Negative Self Talk
Dawn White, RD, Dietitian, Timberline Knolls
Body is defined as “the physical structure of a person or an animal, including the bones, flesh, and organs” (dictionary.com).
Bodies are the parts or us that we can see, touch, and feel in the physical sense. I see my hands typing as I write this article. I feel my feet on the floor and my back against the chair. I notice my elbows resting on the desk. I notice my lungs expand as I take a breath in and breathe out – maybe even a yawn here and there. I feel a faint sense of my heart with its regular beating providing life to every part of my body. I noticed my stomach is content after a satisfying breakfast. These are all parts of our physical bodies that hold inside our entire being of who we are.
As I write, I put together my thoughts and create words with the cognitive intellect which has developed over the years along with my experience of life. I notice my feelings ranging from certainty in some areas along with anticipation and curiosity in others. My memories of the past, being in the present, and hopes for the future create my story. My body is one part of my entire being which makes me all of who I am – both the things I like and those I may not like.
As I think of this, it helps me appreciate how my physical body carries my person in its entirety. Yet, so often this physical body is what is appreciated least or becomes a tool by which to try to “fix” a story that is not what was hoped to be or broken in some way.
During the summer months, more emphasis may be placed on the appearance of the physical, forgetting the whole being. In a culture too often emphasizing the “thin ideal”, our focus to control, change, or punish the physical to try to attain an unrealistic expectation may lead to increased body dissatisfaction and negative body image. This also may lead to being disconnected from our bodies – viewing them as something to be controlled and tamed verses cared for and accepted.
Moving from negative thoughts and expectations of these physical bodies to acceptance and appreciation takes time and moves along a continuum of extreme discontent to loving our bodies. We often hear about positive affirmations and loving our bodies as a way of fighting negative body image, but research suggests that for those struggling with low self-esteem and depression, these positive affirmations may in fact be harmful. Why? Because they are not in line with what we are thinking and feeling. This creates conflict within us that can actually make us feel worse.
Carmen Isais in her article “Why affirmations don’t work” suggests starting with neutral body statements which helps us connect with something real that is in line with what we are feeling in the moment. We can begin by acknowledging what we are feeling and also recognize something neutral about that feeling. For example, instead of saying, “My stomach is a part of who I am and it is beautiful”, I can say, “I don’t like the way my stomach feels today and I am working on accepting it.”
You may be able to notice something you can appreciate as well, such as, “I don’t like the way my stomach looks and feels today and I appreciate that it is part of my core that allowed me to move and walk and hold me up today.” This helps us connect to something that is real and congruent with what is meaningful to us.
In recovery, negative body image is often one of the last things to heal and may show up again and again. Here are some additional suggestions to help when the negative self-talk begins to take over.
- Eat regular balanced meals and snacks. Believe it or not, eating foods including body-nourishing foods and foods that taste good helps improve body image. The more you diet, restrict, or engage in other disordered eating patterns, the more focus we begin to put on how our body looks. Disordered eating fuels negative body image; therefore doing the opposite helps us practice caring for our bodies even when we may not feel we want this.
- Practice self-care in other areas. Depending on how negative body image may be, it may help to intentionally begin to care for one part of our body. For some, picking a neutral part of our body which does not carry as much negative experience may help begin the process of self-care. For example, putting lotion on our hands and being intentional about caring for this part of our body, then moving to another part of our body as tolerated.
- Decrease or stop body checking and using the scale. In the early stages of recovery and with negative body image, body checking and the scale add fuel to the already racing thoughts around our body. Avoiding this in the initial stages of body image work, helps put the focus on healing and not our body.
- Use mindfulness. Staying in the present and practicing gentle, non-judgmental curiosity to the thoughts present while letting them pass by.
- Throw out old clothes or what we sometimes call “sick clothes.” Those clothes that we feel we need to fit into, but do not lead us to caring for ourselves.
- Begin to connect to our bodies. Working with your therapist or dietitian, you can begin to notice things like hunger and fullness, breathing, heart beating, hearing, tiredness, need to urinate, and all the many signals our body gives us. While some of these may need further processing, begin to connect and notice the signals your body gives. Also, utilizing other modalities such as yoga or dance movement therapy help to bring the body into recovery.
Finally, be patient with yourself and give yourself plenty of grace, compassion, and gentle curiosity. As you are engaging in recovery-focused processes, you will gradually notice improvement in your ability to tolerate and begin to accept the body you have. The body which carries all of who you are.
*The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders and not intended as endorsement by iaedp™ Foundation, Inc. or its Board of Directors.*