In short, no, but we sure do try!
Have you ever stood in front of the mirror and said things like “I’m so fat” “I hate my gut” “my arms are gross”? Or maybe you and your friends are always talking about what you hate about your bodies. We like to use negative self-talk as a way to motivate us to actually take action and make changes. We’re extra harsh on ourselves because we think that it will force us into submission to finally take the reins and zero in on our goals. But here’s the thing. Being so hard on ourselves will not keep us motivated in the long run. It just flat out does not work. We can’t constantly affirm the things we don’t like about ourselves and expect to change them into something we love. Long term changes, whether they’re physical or emotional, simply can not come from a negative space. Negative self-talk is even defined as “the expression of thoughts or feelings which are counter-productive and have the effect of demotivating oneself.” Yet we use it as a way to motivate? Doesn’t make much sense, does it?
Let’s say you want to lose weight so you tell yourself no ice cream at all until you reach your goal. But then life happens and your kiddos want some ice cream. You cave and get some too. You berate yourself for having no willpower, consider yourself a failure, call yourself a loser with no self-control and make the promise again…no more ice cream. So then what happens? You have ice cream again. You’re a failure and a loser again and delve deeper into the negative self-talk. It’s a cycle. One that I used to go through constantly and many of my clients have, too. So if this sounds like you, you’re not alone 🙂
Studies are actually showing that the harder we are on ourselves when we have a willpower failure, the more likely we are to have another one and the bigger it will be. So if you eat some ice cream and berate yourself for it you’re much more likely to eat more ice cream next time and feel even worse about yourself. Its science, guys. Science 😉
Couldn’t we just say ‘OK…I know I’m trying to lose weight but I’ll have ice cream sometimes…only when I really want it…and I’ll be OK. Nothing bad will happen (because, truth) and I’ll enjoy every bite and enjoy the time with my kids.’ This is a much gentler and kinder approach and one that allows you to enjoy your favorite foods without a side of guilt followed by negative self-talk.
I have four strategies that work for me, and have worked for clients, who are big on the negative self-talk.
Think about a person talking to someone you love the way you talk to yourself.
“Talk to yourself like you would to a friend” just never resonated with me. Not that I would ever talk to a friend the way I was talking to myself but it just didn’t seem personal enough, I guess. However, when I would think of someone talking to my sister or my nephew like I was talking to myself? Absolutely not. No way. No no no no no. Telling myself I sucked because I couldn’t get something on the first try? Always. But what if someone said that to my nephew when he was learning to walk? I’d lose my mind. Calling myself fat because I had some pizza or candy? Constantly. If someone said that to my sister I’d lose my mind all over again. I would never let someone talk to them that way so why was I letting myself off the hook? Should I not love myself just as much? Should I not love myself more??
2. Where are the thoughts are coming from
I used this strategy just this week. I texted my friend and said I know I write all this stuff about loving yourself and being kind to yourself but I felt gross, I looked gross and I couldn’t stand myself. All because I didn’t like what I saw in the mirror. First, sometimes you just gotta get that shit out. Sometimes you just don’t feel great. But then the question is: Why don’t I feel great? For me it was because I didn’t eat very well last weekend (my choice), I have PMS, I didn’t drink any water besides one bottle at spin and I’m pale as all hell (genetic, but I can do something here). Everything that was causing me to feel so horrible was in my control.
So I can do one of two things with this information. I can either A- tell myself I suck because I ate like crap, didn’t drink any water and look pale and unattractive OR B- do better. I can drink more water asap, eat a good meal, throw on some self-tanner and move on with my life. I’ll choose B every day thankyouverymuch. Because B gets me moving back towards feeling good about myself as opposed to A which will keep pulling me down the rabbit hole of negativity.
Expect slip-ups and forgive yourself
Negative thoughts are going to creep in every so often. You’re going to eat something not so great. You’re going to miss workouts. And know what? The world doesn’t end, you won’t gain weight and you can pick right back up where you left off. So continue to tell yourself when you slip up it’s ndb. Then get back to your normal routine as soon as you can. Back to the ice cream. You ate more than you were comfortable with and now you’re super full and feel yucky. NBD. Think of a ways you can avoid this for next time. Maybe order a smaller size (you can always get more!), put your spoon down between bites, you know some of my tricks here (I did a whole series on mindless eating in case you missed it).
Yes, you’re letting yourself off the hook here a little bit and allowing yourself a mistake but is that such a bad thing? Here you’re owning the fact that you had a slip-up but you’re not letting it derail you. You’re keeping things moving in the right direction instead of staying stuck or regressing because of one mistake.
Be kind and gentle with yourself and others
Even when it’s really hard. Love, kindness, compassion and empathy always win. Always, always, always.
 Adams and Leary PROMOTING SELF–COMPASSIONATE ATTITUDES TOWARD EATING AMONG RESTRICTIVE AND GUILTY EATERS