Today’s post covers a topic that I received an email from a reader about a couple of weeks ago. Her email went a little something like this:
I’m a long-time reader of your blog and love all of your recipes and workouts. You seem like a really confident and positive person, so I wondered if you could help me with the negative thoughts I’ve had lately about my body. I’m not overweight, and I don’t normally struggle with confidence but on a handful of days over the past couple of months, I’ve hated looking in the mirror. I’m not as athletic as you but I do group exercise classes a few times a week and try to stay active during the day. I eat fairly healthy with a few treats here and there, but some days I just feel bloated, extra tired, and not excited about the way I look. Any tips for how to deal with this?
I love this question because I think it’s one that, if we’re being very honest, can all say we’ve struggled with at some point – and probably still do from time to time. I’ll fully admit that I have these days, especially when my digestive issues start flaring up (mostly during times when I’m feeling stressed) and my stomach looks like that of a pregnant lady. That’s right. Not. Fun.
It sucks to feel embarrassed or unhappy with yourself, but in a world where we’re constantly falling into the comparison trap – whether that’s looking at a magazine, scrolling through a social media feed, or watching celebrities on TV – it helps to have a few tricks up your sleeve to flip your mindset around.
To answer my reader’s question, I’ve got 10 tips that have worked (and still continue to) for me, and here they are:
1. Let yourself be frustrated, mad, upset, depressed… for 15 minutes
Sometimes we just feel the need to be heard, and it’s 100% ok to experience negative emotions – it’s what makes us human. Having said that, it’s not fun to feel crappy. If you were to take a sip of tea that was too hot and burned your tongue, you wouldn’t just keep chugging it down, right? Similarly, don’t make your misery last any longer than it needs to. Whether you tell someone about how you feel or you scribble everything in a journal, let yourself get it all out somehow – just don’t dwell on it for longer than 15 minutes.
2. Remember that nobody else is as hard on yourself as you are
This is SUCH a huge one because we are by far our own worst critics. If you find yourself obsessing about how you don’t like a physical characteristic (especially one that you have zero control over), know that the majority of people you come in contact with today probably won’t even think twice about it.
I’ve always loved the quote “where attention goes, energy flows”, and I think it works in reverse too. If you dwell on something you’re unhappy with, you’ll only draw your own attention and that of others toward it. Similarly, if you only pay attention to the thing that’s got you upset, that negative energy is only going to become more intense and dig your mind back out of.
3. Stay off social media
You’ve heard this one before, but social media is a constant stream of people’s highlights. Yes, unfiltered photos may be real life, but still, you’re seeing the highlights and not the unglamorous, less photo-worthy times. On bad body image days, take a social media detox and if you truly can’t avoid it, remember that filters and photo-altering tools are everywhere. In real life there could be way more there (or not there) than meets the eye. Instead of looking at photos and videos of perfection on social media, I’d like to propose that you….
4. Spend time with real people
Yep, real-life people that you see face-to-face, that haven’t been starving themselves as they prepare for magazine cover shoots and don’t have flawlessly airbrushed skin. Have real conversations, laugh (laughing = muscular contractions = endorphins = instant happy pill!) and keep your phone in your bag.
5. Be really kind, helpful, and otherwise awesome to someone else
Rather than dwelling on your own negativity and self talk, flip your focus and help someone else. I’m an introvert, but by that I don’t mean that I don’t like to be around other people. I simply mean that being around a lot of people repeatedly tends to drain my energy, and I need to be on my own for a while in order to top it back up again. By contrast, extroverts get their energy from being in the presence of others. Why does this matter?
Well, as an introvert I tend to spend a lot of time in my own head, whether that’s in the car while driving around and doing errands, or on a long bike ride or run. I adore this time because it’s produced some of my best ideas, but it also means I spend a lot of time thinking about ME. If you’re the same, all of the focusing on yourself can make it easy to identify and dwell on things you’re unhappy with, and hence start a flow of negative thoughts. But why not channel that energy into helping somebody else?
It could be volunteering, meeting up with a friend who wants to learn about something you’re good at, looking after a neighbour’s dog, taking a co-worker out for lunch… whatever. The idea is that by helping another person, you feel better knowing they’re happier and that makes you happy too.
6. Dress yourself up
We’re not talking gala dress and stilettos (unless you really want to, of course), but putting some extra effort into appearance boosts confidence and makes us feel better about ourselves. So put on an outfit you love (bonus points if it’s colourful because specific colours can boost your mood), do your hair, paint your nails and put on some jewelry.
Going to the gym? Probably not the best place for fashion accessories and mascara. Put on a workout outfit that makes you feel strong and confident, and I’m willing to bet it just might make you feel like running an extra mile or lifting for one more set. 😉
7. Do something that has nothing to do with food such as a DIY project or exercise
What does food have to do with all this? Well I don’t know about you, but my bad body image days are typically somewhat linked to something I ate that made me feel crappy. Whether it should or not, food is one of the easiest things to turn to when our emotions swing (positively or negatively).
In the case of being in a negative headspace, many people find that turning to food leads to poor choices and then regret. In my case as a food blogger, I think about it more than the average person and sometimes forget that there are lots of other hobbies out there to be enjoyed!
Exercise is a no-brainer – you know physical activity (especially the ones you love to do) leads to a release of feel-good endorphins, so if your mind is headed south, get thee into a sweaty state! In fact it doesn’t even have to be intense. My favourite days at work are the ones where I can get out of the office at lunch for a walk outside with a friend. Walking isn’t physically challenging at all, but the fresh air in my lungs, the light movement, and the chance to get my eyes off of a screen makes all the difference.
Exercise not doing the trick? Injured? Try something completely unrelated like a DIY project. Browse Pinterest (yes, you’ll find far more than food and fitness models if you type in the right keywords) and get creative. Again, this will take your mind off of your negative thoughts and focus your energy on something else.
8. Make your self-talk super positive
If you spoke to a friend the way you speak to yourself on bad body image days, that person might not be your friend for very long. As I briefly said in tip #2, we’re our own worst critics and sometimes the things we say in our heads are really nasty! At the risk of sounding a bit airy-fairy, woo-woo, therapist-like, talk inward like you’re talking to a friend that’s just gone through a crisis and be gentle on yourself.
9. Look back on the day and acknowledge yourself for the things you did really well
Now that you’ve made a solid day’s effort to bust out of your negative thought patterns and self-defeating self-talk, look at everything you did and pick out a few things you did really well. It could be anything, no matter how small. You helped a co-worker who had a question for you? Awesome. You did an at-home workout this morning? Fantastic! You finished a book you’ve been reading just for fun? That’s great! You held a door and said hello to someone in the elevator? You never know – it could have made their day. When you put things into perspective, you might just find that the things you were unhappy about earlier were so minor in the grand scheme of things.
10. Make an action plan
Last but not least, cap off your day with a plan to prevent yourself from falling into this sort of funk again. You took the time earlier to get all your frustrations out, so think about what was at the root of those frustrations. Did the negative thoughts come from a comment someone made to you, regardless of whether they meant for it to hurt? Or were the feelings triggered after spending time with someone who is overly critical and negative about themselves? Maybe you should consider spending less time with that person. Perhaps it was scrolling through your Instagram feed that led you to catch a photo of a friend who just accomplished something huge, and that made you feel insignificant. In that case, a good social media detox from time to time, unfollowing that person, or just finding an alternative activity to replace some of your Instagram time could do the trick.
Alright – those are my 10 tips. Now I’d absolutely LOVE to hear from you!
- Is body image or negative self-talk something you struggle with, or have you in the past?
- How do you deal with those less-than-ideal days?