How often have you said “I feel so fat!” or “I am such a cow” or “My body is just too big!”? If you are like the average person, struggling to feel good in your body, these kinds of statements are probably a daily affair. We often say these things hoping it will motivate us to take charge to eat healthier or exercise more or both. The truth is, not only does this kind of talk make us feel worse about ourselves, it also prevents us from taking care of ourselves.
We need to understand that ‘fat’ is not a feeling. But today we live in a world where being fat or overweight has become associated with being weak, greedy, unorganised or lazy. However what people really mean when they say they feel fat is they feel unworthy, unloveable, isolated and alone. Pair this with harsh self-talk, and we have a recipe for self-sabotaging behaviours.
So what can we do?
Begin by speaking more gently with yourself. Talking kindly to and about your body may seem counterintuitive, especially if you want to change its shape, but research shows that self-compassionate talk is precisely the route to better self-care, and better physical and emotional health. Kristin Neff, a world-renowned researcher on self-compassion, found that when people begin to talk more compassionately to themselves, it not only reduced anxiety but also helped them make the beneficial changes they needed to in their lives.
When Lyla first walked into my office she couldn’t stop making rude comments about her body. “I am a hippo”, “My legs are too chunky,”, “My stomach is like a watermelon”, “I hate my grandma arms.” I asked her how such talk was helping her and she said needed to hear it else she would never lose weight. Yet, she admitted that she still struggled to find a way of eating and living that worked for her.
I therefore suggested she try out saying some nice things about her body: things to appreciate what it does for her rather than berating it for how it didn’t look. At first, she couldn’t find anything positive to say. But with some time and gentle nudging, she began to say three positive things about her body every day. Things like “I thank my legs for enabling me to walk, I am grateful for the strength in my arms which helps me carry my babies, and I am thankful to my stomach for digesting my food easily.” Within a few weeks she noticed she was feeling less internal pressure to look a certain way. More importantly, this made her want to take care of herself better. This is the power of self-compassion. It gently moves us in the direction we want to go.
While it’s easier said than done, positive body talk can often be a game changer for many who struggle with weight and food issues. So why not give it a try and see where it may lead you? Here are some tips to get you going.
- Write down all the negative things you often say to yourself. Then next to each one, convert that statement into something positive. For instance, if you are in the habit of saying ‘My body is too big’, switch that to ‘My body is doing the best it can’. Move away from statements on how your body looks, to appreciating it for what it helps you do in your daily life. Read this list at least once a day.
- Accept that you don’t have to love every part of how your body looks but can still love your body. Loving and appreciating your body—and yourself—doesn’t mean you have to like every inch. What it means is that you still, despite the so-called imperfections, value its role in your life
- Check yourself when you make comments on other people’s diets, bodies and/or weight, even if you think the comments are positive. Telling someone that they have lost or gained weight or discussing the latest diet re-enforces the pressure on us to look a certain way. Instead, move away from weight and diet talk to talking about other things—the things that really make you feel alive and engaged.
- Make a list of all the things—the aspects of your personality—that you feel proud of. Connecting to positive aspects about yourself helps to find new, more creative ways to take care of your body better.
- Do something nice for your body daily. For example, have a nice long bath, indulge in a massage, put on some nice lotion or perfume, give yourself a foot scrub or take a nap. When you take time out to care for your body, you will also find it easier to talk more kindly to it.
Open yourself to a whole new way of speaking to and accepting your body where it is right now. Once you begin to do this, you will then discover a new way of living and loving yourself and your body more fully. Then with time, you will naturally move towards a healthier, happier place both physically and emotionally.