I am not a psychologist, nor do I have any certifications to legally advise others on nutrition or mental health issues. From my own experiences, I’ve developed this practice that I use to deal with bad body image and negative self talk. I don’t claim that it will work for everyone, nor should it take the place of a certified therapist if you are really struggling.
Throughout my twenties, I struggled with an eating disorder and really terrible body image. I was so mean and degrading to myself, an attitude which shone through in many aspects of my life. Through I’m now recovered, I still now and again lapse into negative thoughts about my body and it’s curves and imperfections. It’s an awful kind of self sabotage that almost everyone struggles with.
Every woman I’ve ever talked to about this, even insanely fit and gorgeous ones, has suffered from bad body image. Through my own struggles with this, I’ve developed coping mechanisms to battle with my critical self and regain my happiness and inner peace. With bad body image, it’s impossible to eat healthier, enjoy food or exercise, or be happy. Treating yourself with kindness is critical to success in any kind of life change, especially adapting a healthy regimen. I’ve developed 5 steps to address and attack bad body image, and replace it with a positive, strong sense of self worth.
Step 1: Acknowledgement
The first step to beating bad body image is acknowledging you are struggling. Face a mirror, and speak out loud to yourself. Be specific and honest. Bring those thoughts out into the world, and listen to yourself. Here is a sample of what that might look like.
I am suffering from bad body image.
I feel like … (here, list all of the negative thoughts you have about your body)
This body image problem is caused by … (why is this happening? What past or present triggers do you sense?)
As I say these hurtful words out loud, I am releasing this negativity from my thoughts and recognizing I need to change.
My personal acknowledgement: I am suffering from bad body image. I feel like my legs are big and fat. I feel that the cellulite on my thighs is ugly. I feel that my lower stomach sticks out and looks terrible. I feel that the fat on my love handles is ugly. I feel that if I lost 5 pounds I would be so much happier. This body image problem is caused by comparing myself to celebrities and other women in the media. As I say these hurtful words out loud, I am releasing this negativity from my thoughts and recognizing I need to change.
Step 2: The Mission Statement
This needs to be internalized. Say it out loud to yourself in a mirror. Print it out and carry it with you. Repeat it often! You need to believe it – if you feel yourself resisting some parts you need to analyze the why.
I recognize that almost everyone thinks negative thoughts about their bodies, just like me. I recognize that bodies come in all shapes and sizes. I recognize that “perfect” isn’t real. I recognize that the women with washboard abs, thigh gaps and less than 20% body fat not only have genetic dispositions for this but work incredibly hard at the gym, have incredible self control, and have a very restricted diet to maintain their bodies so. I applaud them for their hard work! They are beautiful. BUT SO AM I.
I recognize that having the perfect body or losing “the weight” will not change my thoughts or make me happy. The big problem I am facing now is how poorly I am treating myself with these mean, critical thoughts. I am destroying my own happiness. I recognize that I have total control over these thoughts. I recognize it is imperative to my happiness to change them. I recognize it will not be easy, and I will need to work hard to fight the powerful hold negativity has on me.
Step 3: The Mantra
Shut up, mean (insert name here)! I’m awesome and beautiful. Check me out! (Insert sassy dance move or sassy face here)
Now that you’ve acknowledged you have a problem, and you have begun internalizing the mission statement, it’s time to start the hard work. You’ll need to pay close attention to your thoughts, and address negative ones immediately as they arise. Here we are noticing each negative thought and addressing it. Talking yourself through negative thoughts is imperative. When you catch yourself having negative thoughts, especially at the beginning of this process, it’s important to acknowledge immediately that it’s happening and shut it down. I go to the bathroom wherever I am and confront my mean self in the mirror. Doing it in the mirror, out loud, puts your push back into action. Say your negative thoughts out loud, then shut them down with gusto. Repeat the mantra. Kick your negative-self’s butt. Really tell that b off.
Step 4: Re-Framing
As you confront the negative, you need to acknowledge and celebrate the positive. I created a nickname for myself that I use when talking kindly to myself. Don’t tell anyone your nickname – this is for your private use only! After you do something great, congratulate and praise yourself verbally. This is an important step: here you are re-framing your negative tendencies towards a more positive, encouraging outlook. Here are some examples of nice things you can say to yourself.
Great job at the gym today, (insert nickname here)! You were so tired and you did not want to workout, but now your body feels much better.
Great job cooking that delicious healthy meal! Let’s take a picture to brag.
You’ve worked so hard lately – let’s go get a pedicure to celebrate how awesome you are at life.
Great job meal planning this week! Look at all the healthy produce in that shopping cart. Boom.
You look super cute today! Selfie time!
You were so nice to that person back there. It feels great to make someone else smile, doesn’t it?
Step 5: Outreach
After all that work you’ve done with yourself, which you are killing by the way, it’s time to externalize the positive, encouraging thoughts you are adapting. You know that others struggle with the same thing; we all need encouragement and kindness in our lives. Your job in this stage is to spread the love. Give genuine compliments to others. Notice disparaging looks or negative self talk in others. Shoot them down and build them up the same as you have been practicing
It feels amazing to build another up, especially when you see they are struggling with the same thing you are. Tell them the mission statement. Shut their negative comment down, and replace it with positivity and encouragement. Not only are you helping others in this stage, but this outreach in turn internalizes even more the belief that you are perfect just as you are.