Everyone can identify with negative self-talk. The pesky voice inside our heads that conditions our thought process, breaks down our self-esteem and renders us feeling gratuitously inept and even unattractive. “Negative thought patterns are an almost unavoidable part of being human. Often they become so ingrained that we don’t even notice them,” says Psychologist, Andrew Verrijdt. The problem is that as these thoughts flash through our minds, we accept them as fact, when very often they are not! This means thoughts like ‘I’m fat’ become part of our reality and thus influence our self-esteem. What’s more, it becomes self-perpetuating, which means we begin to see what we expect to see or believe to be true.
Veto the Voice in Your Head
The first step in dealing with these negative thoughts is to notice and acknowledge them. “People need to keep a watchful eye on their own thoughts,” says Andrew. “When a negative thought pattern comes up, make a note of it. After doing this for a while, one begins to realise how many of the beliefs we have about ourselves are not true.” While we can’t stop these thoughts from arising, we can filter them and decide whether or not to keep thinking them. Andrew suggests diverting to something more positive when negative thoughts rear their ugly heads. “Doing this basic cognitive therapy on oneself can help to break away from the negative thought patterns that keep us thinking we’re no good.”
More ways to halt the fat chat once and for all, include:
- Challenge your negative thoughts by creating new ‘head talk’, which allows you to think about yourself positively. “A good way to create new ‘head talk’ is to write down a list of affirmations and pin these somewhere where you can read them every day. For example, ‘I am beautiful’ or ‘I am strong and healthy’. It is much easier to break a habit by replacing it with a positive behaviour,” says Psychologist, Claire Newton.
- Question the validity of your thoughts. For example, conditioning from your childhood may have molded your belief system. If you were told you had ‘dumpy legs’ or a ‘large buttocks’ as a youngster, you may continue to believe this into adulthood.
- Focus on parts of your body that you like most and you will begin to feel better about yourself.
- We are easily influenced by others, so spend time with positive-minded individuals who have a healthy attitude towards weight.
- Our fear of imperfection often outweighs reality. Many people are slimmer and more attractive than they realise, yet waste time obsessing over appearance instead of getting out there, enjoying the moment and making changes for the better. Beware of hiding behind your weight. Life Coach, Dr Charles Lubbe, believes our perceptions are a result of our lack of or abundance of courage – and – our ability or inability to face adversity. “My body image becomes a metaphor for my ability or inability. To change my perception, I need to remove the burden of debt, disguised as guilt or anger. As I remove this debt, my heart becomes whole, creating more courage and compassion and I feel stronger and more capable (our health mirrors this increase in courage). Strong people are less likely to have poor body image,” says Dr Lubbe.
If you continue to struggle with self-defeating thoughts, therapy or counselling will assist. Professional intervention is paramount when Body Dysmorphia is suspected – a serious mental illness requiring long-term therapy. “In Body Dysmorphia Disorder (BDD) a person has a marked preoccupation and conviction with an imagined defect or deformity in his or her appearance, despite lack of evidence thereof. Michael Jackson was a classic example of someone suffering from BDD. If there is a slight physical anomaly, the person’s concern is significantly excessive. This physical preoccupation causes clinically significant distress or impairment in personal, social, work or other important areas of their life,” says Joanna Kleovoulou, Clinical Psychologist and Director of PsychMatters Family Therapy Centre.
Facing up to family & friends
When trying to lose weight, you may encounter setbacks from family and friends. Because weight is a sensitive issue, well-meaning loved-ones may say that you look ‘fine’ so as to not hurt your feelings. Other times, loved-ones see you going through major changes, leaving them feeling insecure. “In their eyes you seem different. You were once the person who put family first without caring for your own well-being, but now you are up every morning taking a brisk walk and presenting with new-found confidence. Your loved one is not sure he or she recognises you anymore or what the future holds for the relationship. In an attempt to keep the status quo, sabotaging behaviour may set in,” says Joanna. Here, Joanna suggests understanding what lies beneath the sabotaging tactics, while being firm and letting loved ones know that you are doing something important for your well-being. Ask them to support your weight loss journey and acknowledge their support when it’s given. Help them to realise that although you are going through emotional and physical changes, you are still the same person they know and love. “Remain focused on the end goal and keep in mind that caring and taking responsibility for your health is vital to your existence and ability to function in the world,” says Joanna.
You must be assertive in order to succeed
Be clear about your feelings, while still being respectful to others. Claire suggests the following ways to respond to people who don’t support your efforts:
1) When you are told you don’t need to lose weight and look fine as you are:
Answer: “Thank you for trying to be nice, but I know that I am overweight and I feel really uncomfortable with it. I know that I will look and feel so much better about myself when I have lost weight, so please support me in doing this.”
2) ‘Fad’ diets have given weight loss programmes a bad name and some people actively discourage dieting:
Answer: “Thank you for your concern, but I am working with Weigh-Less and trust that I am on a healthy eating plan. I am doing a lot of reading on the subject and intend to make this a lifestyle, not just a once off for a few weeks. I really want to lose weight and have more energy. Please support me in this.”
3) When people force you to eat or finish everything on the plate:
Answer: “I know that you think I should eat some more but I am satisfied with what I have eaten and do not want to overeat. Perhaps next time, you could serve me a little less so that it does not go to waste.”