As I mentioned in the introduction to this series, I came up with the idea for the Four Cornerstones of a Happy, Healthy Body Image one night before bed, and just jotted down my ideas on a piece of paper I had nearby. When I went ahead and created the graphic, below, I used the same titles I’d come up with that night.
“Thought Control” is what popped into my mind, so I went with it, but I don’t want you to think I’m talking about this:
Because I’m talking about this:
Considering you have approximately 70,000 thoughts per day (source), you might as well make ’em good ones, right? Especially when it comes to thoughts about your body.
The first time I became aware that thoughts had a huge impact on my life and that I could actually notice and change them was when I was coached for the first time in the fall of 2008. Shortly thereafter I signed up to take a certification course to become a coach myself, and that only reinforced those ideas.
Think about it (ha!): how often do you think something along the lines of:
- Ick, I look terrible
- Whoa, my reflection in that window looks wide
- My butt has too much cellulite
- I shouldn’t eat that
- I’ll be “good” about eating tomorrow
- I should exercise more
- I hate my body
- I can’t believe I ate so much yesterday, I’m so bad
- No one will ever find me attractive
- If only my stomach were flatter, I’d be so much happier
- I could look like that! I’m starting a new program tomorrow and I’m going to stick to it this time, 100%
It’s possible that if you don’t have any experience paying attention to your thoughts that these kinds of things float in and out of your mind without you realizing it, but it’s also possible you’re all too familiar with negative thoughts about your body. Here are some ideas for gaining awareness and control of your thoughts:
1. If you’re not paying attention to what you’re saying to yourself all day, every day, start paying attention now. That goes for all of your thoughts, but I’m specifically talking about body-related thoughts right now. Oh, and thoughts about exercise and food, too.
2. Once you’ve started noticing your thoughts, start jotting some of them down in a journal (online or otherwise). You’ll probably start noticing some themes as you look back over the days and weeks.
3. Look at the thoughts that make you feel the absolute worst. Pick the ones that make your chest tighten, or immediately make you want to start a new diet, or fill you with hatred for yourself. Then select just one of them to work on.
4. Sit down and read the thought over. How does it make you feel? What does it make you want to do? I have two go-to methods for dealing with thoughts, one being “The Work” by Byron Katie and one being Self-Coaching 101 from Brooke Castillo. Try both methods and see what works for you. So you can get an idea of how they work, I’ve provided examples below.
This method involves targeting the painful thought and asking 4 questions about it:
The thought you’re having that’s causing you pain: My body isn’t good enough the way it is.
Is it true? Yes, it feels that way. I don’t look the way I used to and I don’t look like anyone I see on TV who is a representation of what good/sexy looks like.
Are you absolutely sure it’s true in all circumstances? Well…I mean, it’s good enough to walk and take me grocery shopping and I did give birth to my kids with this body, so in some ways maybe it’s good enough.
How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought? I feel awful. I feel sad and also angry. I start hating myself for the way I eat. I try to put myself on diet after diet, and when I don’t stick to them, I feel even worse about myself. I withdraw from my partner and sometimes I’m grumpy with my kids.
Who would you be without the thought? If I completely removed the thought from my life I’d be…free. I could get dressed in the morning and smile. I could look at my reflection and feel neutral or even happy. I’d feel the way that I always imagine I’d feel if I looked “good enough.” I’d already feel that way without having to change myself.
Turn the thought around: “My body is good enough the way it is,” “My mind isn’t good enough the way it is (because it’s keeping me down),” “My body isn’t good enough the way it isn’t.”
This method teaches us that the circumstance (whatever your body looks like) is never actually causing you pain, it’s your thoughts about the circumstance.
Circumstance: I looked in the mirror this morning
Thought: I hate myself and I need to lose at least 10 pounds this month.
Feeling: Angry, anxious, sad, disappointed.
Actions: Make little time for self care, snap at co-workers, overeat at lunch because of impending diet.
Results: Feel even worse at the end of the day which leads to no exercise, sitting on the couch, and eating an entire bag of potato chips (results will generally reinforce the thought).
Here’s how things could be different if your thoughts were changed:
Circumstance: I looked in the mirror this morning
Thought: Hey look, it’s me. I’m so proud of all the things my body has done.
Feeling: Satisfied, content.
Actions: Drink a green smoothie for breakfast, play pick up basketball with the kids after work, enjoy some adult time with your husband before bed.
Results: End up having a satisfying day and feel healthy and accomplished.
See how just that one little change at the “thought” level changed everything else? It works in all areas of your life, not just when it comes to thoughts about your body.
For more details on Katie’s method, click here, for more on Brooke’s method, click here. I suggest checking them both out, as sometimes one works better than the other, depending on the thought and situation.
Some people really believe that they have to be mean to their bodies and hate them and punish them. In fact, the kinder and gentler you are on yourself, the more likely you are to take care of your body with exercise, healthy eating, and general self care. Your thoughts are the cause of your unpleasant relationship with your body, but they’re also the answer. Start paying attention now and work diligently on improving them, and you are well on your way to having a better relationship with your body.