Our families and the environment, like diet culture, are often sources of negative self-talk.
Negative Self-Talk can take over our lives, but there is a way to Navigate through it and show Self-Compassion.
Our brains internalize the messages we receive from an early age. These messages can be subliminal as well as right in our face! We learn that we must conform to one type of body – a thin one. We have internalized the message that, if we are anything other than small, we must be lazy, stupid, undisciplined, slow, or dumb.
Listening to our mothers’ (or family’s) comments about their bodies, the bodies of other people or ours, is only one of the ways we have internalized these messages. Diet culture teaches us that we are more valuable if we’re smaller. It is no wonder we struggle as a society with our body image and food intake.
So, how can we use self-compassion to challenge this negative self-talk and ultimately begin to heal our relationship with food and our bodies? It begins with understanding of where our critical internal voices come from in the first place.
How Negative and Critical Thoughts Develop
See if you can imagine the following scenario:
You’re a ten-year-old girl whose mother is always on a diet. She has a hard time watching YOUR body start developing because it reminds her of being teased for being “chubby.” She sees your belly expanding and suggests you diet TOGETHER. And even though you are perfectly healthy and active, you somehow believe that YOU TOO should be on a diet, since your mom tells you to watch your weight. Anytime your mother sees you eat foods she deems “unhealthy,” she reminds you to exercise, and make better food choices.
Now, as this ten-year-old girl experiences life, this negative voice about her food and movement choices that originated from her mother becomes her own inner dialogue. Every choice is criticized, and every outcome feels like a personal failure. What once was outside commentary from a parent (which we should remember is informed and influenced by diet culture), now feels like truth and an integrated part of the self. Because this voice now feels like it organically comes from within, it feels as though it is a part of who you are and, therefore, impossible to talk back to it, or separate the self from it.
It is through self-compassion, however, that we can begin to tease apart what is the diet culture voice (AKA “food police”) and what is the authentic intuitive voice. We can begin to move beyond a self-punishing way of relating to our bodies and embrace the fact that we are all imperfect humans just trying to do our best.
Being able to care for people with love, concern, and empathy (even when they feel they don’t deserve it), is the cornerstone of compassion towards others. Many people can extend compassion towards the people they love but find it difficult to feel the same compassion towards themselves. Being able to turn the empathy that we extend towards others, towards ourselves instead, is where self-compassion begins.
We have evidence that self-compassion can be helpful in preventing and treating anxiety, poor self-esteem, and other mental health issues. Some people find they need additional help in the form of therapy to develop self-compassion, particularly if they have had significant trauma. And I want you to know that is okay! Most of us have a difficult time cultivating a self-compassionate inner voice, and there are tools out there that will help you to build on this skill.
For starters, think about how you would speak to your best friend, your child, or a loved one; we seem to find it easier to accept flaws in other people than in ourselves. We can learn to apply the same feelings of our common humanity – of our imperfect selves – with practice.
Here are five practical exercises to begin developing a self-compassionate voice:
- Speaking to a Friend or Loved One: Can you think back to a time you helped a friend or loved one when they felt bad or struggled with embarrassment over something they had said or done? What did you tell them, and what tone did you use?
- Speaking to Yourself: Was there ever a time you felt terrible or were struggling with embarrassment from something you had said or done? What was your inner dialogue? Was it loud and harsh, or gentle and forgiving? How might your inner dialogue differ if you were speaking to someone you loved deeply?
- Write a List of your Accomplishments to Date: Anything that reminds you how capable you are! Examples might include: graduated college with high honors, got the last job I applied for, etc.
- Think of a Positive Mantra: Can you come up with a list of some positive thoughts, such as: “I am doing the best I can!” “I deserve to be loved because I love myself.” “My best is good enough.”
- Turn a Negative Thought into a Positive One: For every negative comment or thought you have, turn it around to be positive. If you say, “I am so lazy, I can’t get myself to go to the gym today,” say, “Wow, I notice my body is feeling very tired today, so I think it will be good for me to have a rest day.”
Self-compassion is a vital tool in learning to become an intuitive eater. Self-compassion can help you speak kindly to yourself – the way you might talk to a best friend or child! When you have negative and critical self-talk around your food intake and body (typical of many people with disordered eating), it is hard to make any lasting behavior changes. Think about a little self-compassion to finally let go of diets.
Ready to Ditch Diets and Embrace Intuitive Eating?
If you are ready to try a NEW APPROACH… I invite you to sign up for my Intuitive Eating Essentials Online Course and Find Food Freedom and Body Peace Forever.
This self-study Intuitive Eating Essentials Online Course offers you ways to work through these challenging times we live in and continue to stay on your path of making peace with food and your body image. Get access to step-by-step training to help you leave the world of diet culture behind and build habits that stay with you forever! PLUS get the BONUS of the Intuitive Eating Wellness Planner and Journal that is included!
Erica Leon is a Registered Dietitian and practices from a Health at Every Size (HAES®) lens. She is certified as an eating disorder specialist and is passionate about helping women at midlife, menopause and beyond to make peace with food and body image.
Erica is a highly sensitive nutrition therapist who takes the time to learn where you or your family are in the pursuit of health. Respectful of your individual needs and lifestyle, she will provide an honest assessment of whether or not you are a good fit to work together. Click here to schedule a 15-minute Discovery Call with Erica to let us know about your needs, and to see which of our Dietitians is the best fit for you!
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