Christina Stiehl, Content Writer
Like most people, I’ve struggled with my body image for, well, most of my life. The first time I remember not being happy with my body size was when I was in first grade: I thought my tummy was too big, and I wanted to look like the thinner girls in my class.
Fast forward to being on my first formal diet when I was 10 (which can do a number on your body image and self-esteem), barely eating my freshman year of high school to the point of passing out often, to finding a healthier balance later in my teen years after I met with a therapist, registered dietitian, and personal trainer: I learned what a balanced diet looks like, that lifting weights and moving my body is empowering, and that my internal dialogue can be a real meanie.
Still, over the last 15 years—with my weight fluctuating up and down so much and being a wide range of clothing sizes—I still struggle with my body image. It doesn’t even matter what my dress size is or what the number on the scale says, I still tend to find something to criticize. However, whenever my internal dialogue starts to turn vicious, I have four ways to combat the negative thoughts.
It’s important to note that I’m not a licensed therapist or body image expert by any means; this is just what has worked for me when I’ve had a tough body image day and find my thoughts become increasingly invalidating.
- “Thoughts aren’t facts”
This is one that I learned from my sister, who is a licensed therapist. My mind can run rampant with negative and intrusive thoughts, sometimes to the point of being debilitating and really affecting my mood. However, what you think isn’t always based in fact; just because I had a thought that everyone is staring at me and judging me doesn’t mean it’s true.
This is just a thought distortion—a trick our minds use to convince us of (usually negative) things that aren’t actually true. It’s also called mind reading, where we assume what others think. In reality, I have no idea what other people are thinking when they look at me, and they are probably too concerned with themselves to worry about me anyway.
- “Your body is strong and healthy”
When many of my clothes don’t fit and I have to buy a bigger dress size,I tend to get down on myself and feel like I have somehow failed. At those moments, I try to remind myself of everything that my body has done for me. I am strong and healthy: I can lift heavy weights, I can finish an intense indoor cycling class, and my body has fought off Covid twice. It’s easy to get caught up in what you look like instead of focusing on everything your body is doing for you. My heart is beating, my lungs are breathing, and my blood is pumping, all to keep me alive. And that’s something to be grateful for.
- “Look how far you’ve come”
Even when I’m at a higher weight, or my favorite outfits don’t fit like they used to, I try to shut down that pesky voice that tries to tell me I’m unworthy by reminding myself how far I’ve come. When I was 14, I really struggled with disordered eating to the point where I was severely depriving myself, nutrient deficient, and always felt weak and tired. Even then, when I was at a much smaller size, I hated my body and obsessed over my food and weight.
Now, at 33, I have come such a long way: I don’t always love what I look like, but I have learned how to eat to fuel my body and how to move my body in a way that I enjoy and which makes me stronger. I also work to shift my mind and focus on what I love about myself more than what I don’t like: I’m a loyal friend, devoted wife, ambitious, and fun to be around.
- “Would you say this to your best friend?”
I also like to remind myself that the inner voice who says nasty things to me isn’t reflective of who I am. When my inner dialogue turns negative, I always ask myself: would you say this to your best friend? Your mom? Your sister? Then why are you talking this way to yourself? I have worked to show myself more compassion and grace, and understand that I’m a human just like everyone else. Some days are better than others, but at the end of the day, I’m just doing my best.
Although I still struggle with my body image from time to time, I have armed myself with these tools to combat negative thoughts and silence the voice in my head that tries to tell me that I’m not good enough. By recognizing thought distortions for what they are, I’ve learned to focus more on what I love about myself—and that list is a lot longer than the things I criticize.