Those of us who treat eating disorders, disordered eating, or just women in America would like see our clients have more positive self-talk, especially around body image. Unfortunately, body positivity may be a little ambitious…for all of us, not just our clients.
Let’s face it. Our bodies do no always do what we want them to do. Sometimes, we get injured or have a chronic illness. Sometimes, it’s just age-related changes. Whatever the reason, our bodies are imperfect. It may even feel like it fails us at times.
Because we are continually dealing with the limits of our bodies, that aspired-too body positivity can lack the authenticity we need to believe it. Know what? That’s ok. You don’t have to love your body. The most important thing is to let go of body hate.
Body hate is detrimental in ways most of us don’t appreciate. To assess your own self-talk around your body, check out The Reflection Exercise . You probably found that your self-talk around your body is pretty harsh, and that you end up feeling hurt, anxious, or otherwise terrible. It’s easy to see how unproductive those feelings are. How can you get anything done when you’re so distracted by those intense feelings?!
The trick here isn’t necessarily to go in the opposite direction entirely, into thinking why you love your body so much. It’s to much of a leap to really internalize and make useful.
The middle step is BODY NEUTRALITY! Maybe one day you’ll get to body positivity. Maybe not. The important thing is to get away from the hate and the negativity.
So, how do you get to body neutrality?
Step 1: Go back to the reflection exercise and take a look at your thoughts.
Step 2: Take a DEEP BREATH! 7 seconds in, 7 seconds out. Even if you do nothing else, take that breath. Give yourself a reprieve from the negativity. Oxygen will flood your brain and you will be able to think clearer.
Step 3: Write down a neutral statement about your body for every negative thought that you had. Remember to FOCUS ON FACT. For example, if one of your thoughts was “My thighs are too big”, then you can write “My thighs allow me to walk.”
Step 4: Whenever you find yourself hating your body, repeat your body neutral statements.
Step 5: After a week or so of repeating neutral statements, try the reflection exercise again.
Please share your thoughts about body neutrality. Is it easier? Does it ring true for you? How did the exercise go?
Today is the day after Christmas and this one was particularly special. I gave birth to my second son 17 days ago. My dad and stepmom traveled all the way from Pensacola to be here. And we my parents, my new family, and my husband’s family all spent the day together. It really was a gift.
When I was a kid, my dad never got any of us more than one token present each. Christmas was not about presents. It was about going to Grandma Mary’s house across the street, visiting with my millions of cousins, and eating cheese grits. My dad hated the commercial materialism and pressure of Christmas and refused to participate in it.
It’s a great lesson, isn’t it?
We do not have to bow to social pressure. We can live out our values and be proud of it. In fact, life will be more enjoyable for it. I do not remember a single present I got for Christmas as a kid, but I do remember listening to my dad tell a story that somehow combined Santa, Batman, and the Nazis. It wasn’t the most coherent story ever told, but “the cousins”, as we were called as a group, were riveted.
This year, I saw my dad hold my newborn and play with my eldest. We shared a meal. We all laughed and told stories about my brothers. We were missing a few people and the cheese grits, but otherwise, it was a an amazing day.
As we leave the holiday season, I must also reflect on recovering from an eating disorder. My first Christmas in recovery helped me remember who I was and figure out who I wanted to be. Being recovered allowed me to have the children to whom I will pass these lessons. It is because I recovered that I have my new family and can enjoy my parents. It’s a beautiful gift…so beautiful I feel unworthy of it.
I’ll take it though, and hold it tight. I might be unworthy but I am not going to pass on it!!
What has your recovery brought you? What is better about your life now?
In recovery from an eating disorder, we often find that we have lost ourselves to the ED. We don’t know what we are good at. We haven’t been allowed to be good at anything. We do not know what we like. Liking things was an indulgence that was for weaker individuals. We become the eating disorder. It dictates how we respond to events and what we actively create.
Recovery from an eating disorder, in a very real sense, is the recovery of our true self. We must face the question, if I am not my eating disorder, then who am I?
So how do you do that? There is a neat little exercise based in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) that starts the process off nicely and simply. It is called “Who am I?” and it is simply filling out the sentence “I am _______________” about 45 times.
“Who am I?”
As simple as it is, it is one of the most difficult exercises a person will find. I remember my therapist giving me a similar assignment when I was in treatment. It took me about 3 months to fill out. Seriously, 3 months!
I started with “I am a daughter.” and that sentence alone started me on the path of figuring out who I am. I remember one night wanting to use behaviors but also being determined to be more than my ED. I decided to be a daughter. Very awkwardly, I decided to go watch an episode of House with my dad, who I was living with at the time. By the time the show was over and we had gotten done talking, the urges had passed. I was shocked but for the very first time, hopeful that something in my life was going to change.
What happens when you answer “I am__________.” How do you react to the activity? What do you answer?
**I got this exercise from the folks at Green Mountain at Fox Run. I’ve changed it a little bit but the core ideas remain. Thus, they should get the credit!!
Self talk is a difficult thing to understand mostly because it tends to happen below the level of conscious awareness. I’d like to present an exercise that, in theory, will help you assess your own body image related self-talk. It’s called the reflection exercise.
Step 1: Imagine the you are standing in front of a full length mirror.
Step 2: Write down all the thoughts that come to your mind. Do not censor or change the thoughts.
Step 3: Read back over the thoughts. What is your reaction? (Do you get angry, feel sad, etc.)
Step 4: Imagine you are witnessing one person say your thoughts to another person. It can be any two people: friends, mother and daughter, etc. How do you react this time?
You may have found from this exercise that your body image is pretty positive and your self talk does not elicit much of a reaction. You may have also found that your self talk is on the mean side and it made feel uncomfortable to read the thoughts back.
You can see that if you have negative self talk, then you are always making yourself feel some negative emotion, whether you are aware of it or not, and that has a direct impact on your ability to function. When you don’t feel good, everything becomes harder.
The real kicker though, is step 4. If there is a difference between how you feel when you say something to yourself and when you witness someone else say it, it’s time to think about what that means. Most often people are more ok with being mean to themselves than they are with seeing one person bully another.
If this is the case for you, then you may not value yourself enough. The issue of self worth is another topic entirely but it may explain the origin of your self talk and give you a way to start changing it!
Please share your thoughts on this exercise. What does your self talk look like? Were you surprised by anything?
The phrase “Attitude of Gratitude” is one you hear used in the rooms of AA and other 12 step programs. Obviously, it refers to giving yourself an attitude adjustment when you get angry or resentful and remember all the good things you have in your life. Gratitude is also what the holidays are supposed to be all about! It seemed like an appropriate topic at this time of year.
Gratitude is a powerful way to up your mood or challenge abusive self-talk or even the black and white thinking that comes with addiction, depression, eating disorders, and just life in general.
Having an “Attitude of Gratitude” is especially useful at challenging perfectionist thinking. When you go days on end, feeling like you are not allowed to enjoy anything or that nothing is good enough, readjusting your thinking is a break from the unrelenting criticism and cruelty. Even if it’s only for a few moments, it’s quite nice, actually.
Gratitude also helps you find reasons why recovery is worth it. Recovery is hard work and sometimes may not feel worth the effort. Gratitude allows you to reassess your priorities and refocus on recovery in those more difficult moments.
So, how is this done? Some people make gratitude lists, a set of 5-10 things they are grateful for in the morning or a specific day of the week. Others find 1-3 things to be grateful for when they realize they are becoming resentful or angry. There is no right way to adjust your own attitude. You get to figure out what works for you!
Today, I am grateful for the moment when my son was playing and he looked up, saw me, yelled “Mama” and ran towards me for a big hug! I am grateful for the recovery that is allowing me to carry a second child. I am grateful that the shopping is done and I can rest for a moment.
What are you grateful for today? How do you maintain an “Attitude of Gratitude”?