Mean Words Won’t Make You Slim

How many times have you criticized yourself in the last 24 hours? Stop for a minute and think about it. If you’re having any doubts that you’ve been anything but complimentary, think back to when you got dressed this morning. What exactly did you say to the image in the mirror? “Look at that stomach! Your thighs are enormous! You’ll never fit into those pants you got last month. You look terrible!”

Most of us wouldn’t dream of speaking to another human being like that. But we have no problem routinely addressing ourselves in a disrespectful, even demeaning, way. And if you’re choosing to lose weight, those voices make slimming down, or any kind of change, difficult or even agonizing.

Where do they come from, these critical, demeaning voices? Mostly, they’re the collective, cruel voices of our past — our parents, our siblings, schoolyard bullies, former lovers — that we’ve internalized. Over time, we come to believe them as true. They’re incredibly powerful. And they can set up all kinds of horribly self-sabotaging situations.

Not long ago, I was in an unavoidable situation with a person from my past who was the source of many of my own voices. I had gone into this situation feeling positive, even elated: my career was successful, my friendships were solid, my family life was strong, my health was great. Less than 24 hours after being with her, I felt demoralized, pitiful, small. Nothing in my life had changed, but I was utterly deflated — until I became aware of a cacophony of voices inside my head. There it was: a steady stream of small but painful self-criticisms, like an onslaught of tiny, fierce hornets. The irony is, this woman’s criticisms of me paled in comparison to my own self-talk. I’d done most of the work for her.

How does negative self talk hamper your best efforts to lose weight, boost digestion, increase energy–or, for that matter, get a job, run three miles, begin a new relationship, even move through your day in a peaceful fashion?

Next: 5 Ways Self-Criticism Undermines Your Efforts

It keeps you stuck in the past. Most of the time, negative self-talk has nothing to do with what’s going on in the moment, in present time. Those critical, blaming voices are based almost entirely on past influences that don’t recognize who you are today. They’re not accurate. Staying in the past also keeps you in a comfortably familiar role, even if it’s a miserable one. No matter how much you want to change, it’s scary to step out of a familiar pattern and into a new way of being — even if, ultimately, it will bring you joy and peace.

It increases cortisol. Stress — any kind of stress, be it physical, mental or emotional — increases levels of cortisol which in turn encourage the storage of fat, especially around the belly. A new study published in the journal NeuroImage found that study participants who engaged in self-criticism showed more brain activity in the regions associated with depression, anxiety and eating disorders. In other words, mean self-talk makes you eat more, and hold on to excess weight.

It undermines your confidence. You’ve got to be your own champion, your own best friend. No one else will do it for you. If the voice in your head is hurling demoralizing epithets at you every 10 seconds, you’ll feel defeated before you’ve even left the starting gate. And when you’re standing on the sidelines screaming, “Who are you kidding? You’ll never lose weight,” you probably won’t.

It destroys your trust in yourself. When the nasty little voice in your head is hurling unkind words at you, it’s impossible to simultaneously trust yourself. And trusting yourself is key to any kind of change — especially a positive change in dietary habits.

It’s really believable. The voice that’s spewing out that steady stream of negative talk is powerfully persuasive. It knows the right phrases, the exact tone, the fastest way to cut you off at the knees. But the voice isn’t always obvious; it can be clever, slippery and so hard to pin down that you’re not even aware of its presence until the damage is done.

Knowing that negative self-talk is a nasty habit is one thing. Stopping it is another issue altogether. The first step is to simply draw attention to the voice in your head. What is it saying? And whose voice is that anyway? Try this exercise: for one hour every day, become acutely aware of your negative self-talk. You don’t have to confront it right away; this first step is a fact-finding mission. Take a step back from the voice, and listen to it with curiosity. Give it lots of space to express, but stay non-committal. For some people, 15 minutes of this practice is plenty, as long as it’s consistent. The voices didn’t take hold overnight. They won’t go away that fast either. Be patient–and consistent.

Once you’ve become painfully aware of your own negative self-talk, talk back. This is your chance to say all those things you didn’t get to say in real life. If it’s possible for you, talk back out loud. Really loud. It’s freeing to holler at the voice that represents the critical people from your past.

I had a client whose parents sat at the dinner table every night and poured on a torrent of criticisms as she ate: “Why are you eating so much? You’re already so fat! You’re only going to get fatter!” Mind you, this woman was a child at the time, and she played out their predictions: she ate more, and she got heavier–and unhappier. She’s a grown woman now, comfortable with her weight, and not speaking to either of her parents, but their voices continue to ruin her meals on a nightly basis. Once she became aware of how efficiently she’d internalized their negative dialogue, she started to talk back — or, rather, holler back, using words I can’t print in this column.

Eventually their voices stopped, the negative self-talk slowed, and she regained control of her own mind and life once again. Try it yourself; with practice, you’ll become your own champion and best friend — and speaking nicely to yourself will become a cherished habit.

How do you talk to yourself — nasty or nice? We’d love to hear your comments!

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Stina E.
Stine F.2 years ago

A very good reminder of the way our self talk shapes our lives, even though we're often not aware of it.

Emma S.
Emma S.4 years ago

I liked this article. I've had good results with affirmations but you have to remember to keep them up. Otherwise you think, 'Oh, I'm better now' and stop doing them - then you can find that your old ways creep back again. Just a couple of days ago my partner pointed out that I was being horrible to myself again. Back with the affirmations!

Renata B.
Renata B.4 years ago

Being a hypnotherapist I perfectly agree on the power of words, which means thoughts.Automatically repeated into the subconscious mind.We are not even aware of their damage, but it can be huge.

Anastasia Z.
Anastasia Z.5 years ago

This is a very deep and thoughtful article. Thank you so much!

Stephanie A.
Stephanie A.5 years ago

Paying homage to these voices also perpetuates a loyalty to the originator of these voices..Once you identify the origin of this voice, the conscious choice to over ride this voice with your own constructive and productive one..liberates your psyche...and fosters a true sense of autonomy.. I appreciate reading your post as a therapist and woman who knows the power of inner change work..Stephanie Alt MS I will re post this on my facebook pages...

Jill Waldrep
Jill W.5 years ago

This was good.

I think this could really pertain to your life and attitude in general. I realized at the beginning of this year how much I let negativity run my life. So, I decided to get a journal to help me release it. Unfortunately journal-ling about all the negative BS I dealt with all day just kept me in a negative mood. A few days ago I decided that I was going to try something new. Every night before bed I'm going to write out 3 good things about that day. Whether it be something I did, something someone did for me, something great I ate or heard...etc etc. I noticed that my attitude today is MUCH better.

Try even writing one good thing about yourself everyday....chances are it will make loosing that weight or sticking to that diet or workout plan work much better.

Aria S.
Aria S.5 years ago

that negative self voice helps me- i shut it up by proving myself, so it motivates me

Kay Tran
Kay Tran5 years ago

It's strange how life rolls with positive thinking, I usually think that we need to painfully sacrifice ourselves in order to gain what we want, hence "no pain no game". But when I read this article, life seems easier that it sounds. Positive thinking helps you love yourself, AND loose weight (because you love your body so much that you actually work out) which RESULTS having an actual perfect body which makes you feel confident, and then you make more friends and eventually meet the one and yadi yadi yadi ya. happy ending...

Linda G.
Linda G.5 years ago

Charmaine, you make very good points and I agree wholeheartedly. Hester, I also love the idea of the stop sign. Elaine you're absolutely right.
I never worried that I would ever be mugged or beaten up because I did such a good job of beating myself up. It took a lot of years for me to start seeing myself as a unique expression of the Divine and worthy of self love.

Laura Klein
Laura Klein5 years ago

Great article! It's so important to be kind to ourself with any change we make in our life, whether it's losing weight, ending unsupportive relationships or changing money habits, we all need to be a kinder to ourselves. Great reminder!