Many years ago I approached a guy who was about my height. He had his shirt off and was getting ready to go swimming.
Personally I thought the guy looked absolutely ridiculous. He was pale, had the worst spare tire, and his muscle tone was nowhere to be found.
I couldn’t help myself. The words that came out of my mouth were automatic.
I said “wow you’re fat! How can you not be embarrassed going to the pool looking like that? Go to the gym. Stay away from the Twinkies. A tan wouldn’t hurt you either!”
The guy looked me straight in the eyes, a defeated look on his face, sighed, and then didn’t say another word. He put his shirt back on and went about his day.
I felt pretty bad saying those things but I really didn’t feel much remorse. I had looked at that same guy in the mirror every day for years picking apart my body.
Obviously I was talking to myself here, as I would never say these things to another person. But that’s the problem. We will defend other people from blatant criticism and verbal abuse with passion, but when it comes to the things we say to ourselves, we just write it off and accept it.
And make no mistake, negative self-talk IS verbal abuse. Verbal abuse is using words to manipulate, intimidate, and maintain power and control over someone (or your self, in this case). It’s disrespectful, harmful, disempowering, and it diminishes your life experience. This is exactly what negative self-talk is and does.
If you wouldn’t walk up to a random person, let alone a person you’re supposed to love, and tell them to their face that they’re fat, ugly, worthless, and should be ashamed of their body, then why would you do that to yourself? It’s time you start treating yourself the way you want others to be treated.
When my wife, Deanna, did her yearly retreat with moms, one of the activities she had them do is to write down a handful of negative things they say to themselves when they look in the mirror. This is quite an enlightening experience in and of itself. Actually seeing these comments written down is eye-opening.
But she takes it a step further. She then has each person turn to the person next to them and say the things they’ve written down. Half the people can’t bring themselves to say these things to another person. And the other half break down and start crying.
It’s tough but it shows one very important thing – we don’t pay ourselves the same kindness and respect as we do to others. We don’t have the same standards. And we’ve become desensitized to the all the ways we put ourselves down.
You might think that guilting and shaming yourself and your body will motivate you to take action, but I can assure you that the actions you take won’t be the right behaviors you need to make.
Behaviors that are born from a place of self-hate, disrespect, and disgust are much different than the behaviors spurred from a place of self-love, respect, and self-care. The way you treat yourself matters. The words you use to describe yourself matter.
This whole “hating yourself into changing your body” thing never works. It negatively influences the way you approach your eating and exercise. You end up eating to control your body instead of to respect and give it what it needs to thrive. You end up exercising to burn calories and purge fat instead of to enjoy and celebrate movement. We take care of the things we value, and we neglect the things that we hate.
We’re all so worried about the people around us and the toxic relationships that make us miserable, yet we don’t even realize that the most toxic relationship most people have is with themselves. We will live with ourselves 24/7 for the rest of our lives, yet we allow this toxicity to be part of our life, and it affects everything from our self-worth, to our confidence, to the life experiences we miss out on because we feel less-than.
It’s time for you to get mad – mad at the person inside of you who is constantly attacking your being. Defend yourself the same way you’d defend your kid or your partner if someone walked up to them and told them they were fat, ugly, or should be ashamed of being themselves in this world.
The confidence you’re seeking through body manipulation doesn’t come from changing your body – it comes from standing up for yourself. It comes from respecting your body and what it looks like. It comes from acceptance and self-compassion.
So the next time you get a glimpse of yourself in the mirror and start down the road of negative self-talk, say NO and tell that person, that toxic ego, to get lost. They are no longer welcome to share the same place in your head as the person you’re trying to become. You’re no longer going to accept anything less than respect from yourself. Because you deserve to be treated as the valued human being you are.
Separate Your Self From Your Thoughts
You are not your thoughts. I know it might feel that way sometimes, as they absolutely affect your life experience. But they are not YOU.
You are the one who observes your thoughts. You are your self. Your thoughts, on the other hand, form your ego.
For a lot of people, their thoughts and ego overtake their self. They have a hard time disassociating from the inner dialogue that’s running through their head. So when that dialogue is full of negative self-talk, it gets internalized as truth, and negatively affects your body image and overall life experience.
Your thoughts are created by a process that’s based on your prior life experiences, which create your belief system, which then filters your current reality. Because of this, your thoughts feel very real to you. However, they are just a construct of your past.
Think of it this way – when you were born you were almost entirely your SELF. You had an existence without much thought, as there had been few if any experiences to create a belief system. But as time went on, you began to receive inputs from your environment. You saw things, heard things, and felt things. You had experiences.
You started to be conditioned by your parents and society. You were taught what was good or bad; what was shameful or prideful; when you should feel guilty or happy; what a healthy or attractive body looked like; what made you valuable. And your belief system was formed.
Your belief system is like your operating system. It inputs stimuli from your environment – things you see, for example, and outputs thoughts and behaviors. When you’ve been conditioned to believe that a certain sized body is unattractive, then when you look in the mirror and see an image that doesn’t match the societal ideal, you experience negative self-talk.
Ironically, this negative self-talk is there to protect you. It’s just doing it in an ineffective way that’s based on false premises. Your ego is trying to protect itself from being hurt. It doesn’t want to be called fat or ugly. That would be painful. So you develop an inner critic to help keep you safe. The idea is that this negative self-talk will either create a preemptive shield to criticism from others in the future, or it will spur you into action and do something about your body so that you don’t experience pain.
But remember, you are not your thoughts. This entire reality that you’ve created is simply your past experiences and traumas being dragged to the now. Your true self is the one who is observing these thoughts, and is the one who has the power to neutralize them.
Because you really aren’t in danger. Any danger you are experiencing with your body is self-imposed. The threat was created to protect your ego from emotional discomfort – not your body from physical pain.
In reality, your negative self-talk is the real threat. It is limiting your ability to believe in yourself and your own ability to reach your potential. These thoughts are limiting your ability to make positive changes in your life. They lower your ability to see and capitalize on opportunities for personal growth.
So your goal is to separate yourself from your thoughts by understanding that you are not your thoughts. Observe your thoughts. Understand where they are coming from. Understand that they are simply trying to keep you safe from danger. But then realize the threat you are defending against isn’t real. You aren’t actually in danger. The danger is a manifestation of your past experiences being brought to the present moment.
You don’t have to continue internalizing your thoughts. You can pick and choose the ones you want to be part of your identity. When your negative self-talk doesn’t align with who you want to be or how you want to feel, say thanks but no thanks. Observe the thought and let it pass through you. Don’t latch onto it and become it.
The more you create this distance between your self and your thoughts the better you’ll be able to harness your inner critic for good. You’ll be able to let go of your experiences of the past that cloud your empowering belief system, and you’ll be able to start directing your future by being more selective with the thoughts you internalize.
Reacting to Your Inner Critic
Your inner critic is there to help you recognize when you’re acting out of alignment with your belief system. When things get out of alignment, that’s when negative self-talk commences.
It’s normal to have an inner critic, and it’s normal to have negative self-talk. Pretending these perfectly normal things don’t exist isn’t going to help you manage them when you inevitably experience them.
The problem isn’t that we experience negative self-talk, it’s that we act reactively to it. When this happens we tend to act irrationally, engaging in diet-like behaviors, which throws us into a downward spiral.
So how do we know when our inner critic is at work? Feeling guilt and shame are a couple of signs to be on the lookout for. But they aren’t the only signs. It’s also normal to catastrophize (worst-case scenario thinking), personalize (everything is your fault), filter (only seeing the bad), or have feelings of doubt or worthlessness. All of these things happen when you experience something that’s out of alignment with your belief system.
So we need to approach our inner critic and negative self-talk from two fronts – proactively and reactively. Proactively we need to challenge our beliefs that are leading to unwarranted self-talk. But we also need to react to our inner critic in a productive way. It’s not about “being positive” either, or taking the negative self-talk and trying to force it into positive self-talk. That isn’t always going to be possible, reasonable, or even productive, and can be a form of toxic positivity. It’s more about neutralizing the negative by investigating and challenging your limiting beliefs.
If you’re feeling shame around your body, or you’re experiencing guilt or beating yourself up for overeating, then there’s an underlying belief that is triggering your inner critic. The negative self-talk is there to show you that you did or are doing something wrong (true or not), so that you can do something about it.
The belief might be that your body should be smaller or that you should weigh less. So any size appearance to the contrary, or any behavior with your eating that might lead you away from that belief, is going to trigger your inner critic. And for most people in this scenario, they are going to react emotionally by restricting calories, depriving themselves of certain foods, and doubling down on willpower – the Diet Culture approach that fails 99% of the time.
Now, while it’s natural to feel guilt and shame, not every scenario justifies them raising their voices. If you go and inflict physical harm on someone, you might very well feel guilt and shame, and it will probably be warranted. However, if you feel guilt and shame because your body looks a certain way, then this is when you want to be proactive and challenge the underlying beliefs that are leading to you feeling this way. We’ll talk about how to do this more in Chapter 14.
While you’re working on being proactive with your negative self-talk, you’re still very likely to experience these feelings. And while it’s normal to feel this way, we don’t want to act from this place.
Beating yourself up and guilting and shaming yourself is a form of self-punishment. Unfortunately, when you punish yourself for doing something wrong, it doesn’t teach you how to do it right. Instead, you end up reacting emotionally using avoidance behaviors (dieting being the big one).
What you want to do is validate your inner critic, as it is useful for recognizing when you’re acting out of alignment. But once you experience those feelings, you don’t want to emotionally react to them. That just results in compensatory behaviors that treat surface level symptoms (ie dieting). Instead, you want to investigate the situation so that you can act rationally to address the actual problem (if there even is one).
Remember, it’s not about denying your inner critic or fighting against negative self-talk. It’s about understanding where it’s coming from so that you can potentially address the limiting beliefs that are driving it, and then learning to react to it in a way that will actually be productive.
#Don’t Hate – Investigate
Beating yourself up for doing something wrong doesn’t accomplish anything. It feels like it does because it’s a form of self-inflicted punishment. In a way, it helps us to excuse our behavior.
But we don’t need to hate on ourselves when we do something wrong. We don’t need to beat ourselves up for overeating on the weekend. We don’t need to trash talk our bodies when we look in the mirror.
Doing so isn’t going to lead to the behaviors you need in order to feel better. Instead, the negative self-talk leads to punitive behaviors like dieting. Reactions tend to be extreme and emotional, which rarely align with your body’s needs.
When you overeat on the weekend, you question what’s wrong with yourself, and guilt yourself by lecturing yourself that you should be able to do better. You end up associating your worth as a human being with your ability to adhere to a behavior. Never mind that the behavior was a byproduct of Diet Culture and set you up for failure in the first place. So your solution is to double down on willpower and discipline, bust out the no excuses philosophy, make your diet even more perfect, lower your calories, and work just a little harder burning extra calories in the gym.
And we all know how that goes. But what we don’t realize is how this extreme behavior is the side effect of negative self-talk. Negative self-talk doesn’t have to mean you’re literally talking out loud to yourself in a bully-like way, although that certainly can happen. It also means the running dialogue of thought that happens both consciously and unconsciously that directs our behaviors.
This is the sneaky self-talk. It happens on auto-pilot and keeps you stuck in a cycle of self-hate and suboptimal behaviors. And when it comes to your health and fitness journey, the negative self-talk can almost always be traced back to your body directly, or indirectly, by how your behaviors are affecting it.
The solution? #DontHateInvestigate. Deanna would kill me if I didn’t give her credit for this little phrase. It’s her mantra, and it’s a great one to live by.
Don’t hate – investigate, means to raise your self-awareness out of the stream of unconscious negative self-talk, so that you can productively assess and deal with a situation. We’re all going to mess up. No one is going to to achieve their Ideal Body without any hiccups along the way. It’s what you do during these inflection points that determines whether you keep moving forward, or if you get dragged back into Diet Culture.
When you overeat on the weekend, you might be currently conditioned to start running your negative self-talk programming. And like I said earlier, this leads to knee-jerk emotional behaviors (overcompensating by eating less or purging those calories by moving more) that have very little chance of helping you succeed. However, when you don’t hate – investigate, it allows you to dissect the situation from outside of the emotional cloud so that you can investigate it and address the root cause of the unwanted behavior.
Overeating on the weekend could have been caused by emotional eating, or it could’ve been a byproduct of too much restriction and deprivation during the week that created a spring-like effect come the weekend. If you let negative self-talk run your future, you’ll never be able to see these causes, and you’ll instead focus on the outcome and what actually happened, try to treat the symptom, and strong-arm it into submission by implementing behaviors that don’t address the underlying causes. You end up being a symptom treater, and the problem behavior will persist.
Don’t hate – investigate, means you rationally investigate the situation to find the root cause. And then you address that directly. That’s the entire essence of the Ideal Body Formula. You achieve your Ideal Body by healing your relationships with food, body, exercise, and mind, which happens by addressing your struggles at their origin.
So when you find yourself engaging with your negative self-talk, understand that while it might feel like you deserve it or that it’s pushing you to take action, it’s not getting you to take the type of action that will prevent it from happening again. It’s actually priming you to remaining stuck in the cycle, and if you aren’t careful, you will spend a lifetime in the diet cycle. Instead, don’t hate – investigate.
Before I started my fitness business back in 2011, I spent 5 years in Afghanistan working for the military managing their communications network.
While living on the base I did my best to stay in shape. I worked out in the gym and ate the food they provided in their chow halls.
It wasn’t perfect, but I got done what I needed to. However, my binge eating disorder followed me to other side of the world.
On one of the bases there was a small Tim Hortons. For those who don’t know what this place is, it’s very similar to a Krispy Kreme restaurant.
Several times per week I’d go and get a dozen donuts or a few dozen donut holes, shamelessly walk them back to my living quarters, and eat them all.
My bingeing was in full swing and my body was affected.
In fact, one of my co-workers saw my body in the shower area and found it cute to start calling me “Fat Tony”.
For a week after that encounter that’s what he referred to me as. He would even yell it from a distance to get my attention – “Fat Tony!”.
That is until I confronted him on it and told him to knock it off. He laughed about it and said he was just kidding, but I told him to start making jokes at his own expense.
He never did it again.
I tell you this story because me standing up for myself was a form of body/self-respect. And that’s something a lot of people are lacking.
We mentally, verbally, and physically assault our bodies and allow others to cross boundaries we don’t defend.
It’s time to start standing up for yourself. No one is going to respect you until you respect yourself first.
No one is going to fully love and accept you until you fully love and accept yourself first.
No one is going to validate your self-worth until you validate it first.
How can you expect other people to treat you with respect and body kindness if you can’t even do it for yourself? We show other people how to treat us by the way we treat ourselves.
You don’t become beautiful by believing you’re ugly. You don’t become smart by thinking you’re dumb. And you don’t love and accept your body by hating and rejecting it. Hating your body doesn’t make you like it more. It doesn’t matter what behaviors you insert along the way.
So start having some compassion for yourself. Stand up for yourself. Stop beating yourself up for the mistakes of your past. And start embracing who you are and what you look like.
You don’t have to hate your body to be motivated to change it. There is another way – a way that’s born out of self-respect.