Positive Self-Talk

If you struggle with your body  or self-image, you probably have some negative self-talk going on. You might have thoughts about yourself that reaffirm that negative self-image. This sometimes makes it difficult during “down time,” when those thoughts that you might otherwise be able to escape with distraction creep in and can be unavoidable. How can you turn the tide on years of self-abuse?

Think of how you treat yourself. Would you tolerate a friend treating you that way? Would you let someone tear you down and call you names? If you have appropriate boundaries with others, you shouldn’t. So why is it acceptable to treat yourself this way? Why do we have different standards for how we treat ourselves and how we treat others? Of course it is not fun to be alone with yourself if you are just plain mean to yourself – it would be like having to spend time with a nasty friend that you can’t get to leave.

One way to start moving from negative self-talk to positive self-talk is through affirmations. Try to figure out what you are telling yourself during the negative self-talk – maybe even start journaling the thoughts that go through your head while you are changing clothes, weighing yourself, or interacting with your body during some other triggering event. The first step is always recognizing that it is going on, and accepting it for what it is. Then, try to flip that negative statement into a positive statement.

One example might be “I am not pretty enough.” This would be a statement that you believe now. You could transform this into a statement that you would like to believe in the future, but may not fully believe now. Such a positive statement might be “Some people think that I am pretty,” and in the future that might become “People see my beauty inside and out.”

If you really struggle to find any positive statement that you feel you could believe in the future, you might choose an appreciation for that part of your body – i.e. be thankful for your legs that allow you to get where you need to go, or a neutral statement – i.e. “I have brown hair,” that is neither negative nor positive, and then move towards positive once you can accept the neutral.

While this seems fairly straight-forward, it does require some repetition. Think of how many times you might have told yourself that negative message – now you need to counteract that by pounding that positive message into your head instead – the key is repetition over time. You might put your affirmations onto an index card and post it in your closet where you get dressed each morning, or on a mirror where you a likely to be critical about your reflection. Some of my clients have recommended the “Think Up” app, which you can use to record your affirmations in your own voice to play back over and over again.

If you struggle particularly in front of the mirror, you might consider covering your mirrors for the time being. If you need your mirror do your hair, for example, you might cover up the rest of the mirror so you can’t see your body, but only your hair. Or, if the mirror is not needed, you might consider getting rid of it for the time being. When you feel that you can catch your negative thoughts and change them into positive thoughts, you can reclaim your mirror.

Also, if you find that you are weighing yourself frequently, and that you are unhappy at the result, that you may consider getting rid of your scale. Sometimes the fixation on a single number can be problematic, and not knowing can alleviate some anxiety. If you do decide to continue weighing yourself, don’t do it more than weekly. If you know that knowing the number stresses you out, you can also request that your doctor not discuss your weight number with you at appointments.

In addition, check your closet. Do you have enough clothes that fit you right now and make you feel good when you wear them? Consider getting rid of your clothes that are too small, or at least getting them out of your closet for now if you can’t bear to part with them. You might even consider trading in your too-small clothes for new ones at a thrift shop such as Clothes Mentor or Plato’s Closet. Putting on clothes that don’t fit can trigger negative self-talk that can be troublesome and can be avoided by wearing clothes that you feel good in.

In short, many of us have negative self-talk that we can choose to transform into positive self-talk. Keep track of negative statements, and turn them into neutral or positive statements that you would like to believe. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Be your own best cheerleader, and watch your self-confidence soar.

Goal setting

So many of us have lofty goals that we hope to achieve some day in the future, but may struggle with how to get there. Large goals can seem overwhelming, and it can be hard to know where to start.

From my frame as a therapist, I would approach this from sort of a “treatment plan” perspective. A treatment plan is a set of specialized goals, objectives and interventions with a set time frame for re-evaluation. This means that a larger goal is stated, and broken down into smaller goals, or objectives, that lead up to a goal. An intervention is the action taken to move towards your goal. If planning and organization are helpful to your mental health, this can be a really concrete way of setting your course.

For example – say your goal is to get a job in a field that is new to you. While this sounds simple, it is not an action that can be taken in one step. You might break down the actions needed to get to your big goal. Objectives might be to re-do your resume, talk with those already in the field, and to search and apply for positions. Within each of those objectives, there are many smaller goals that can be underneath each. For example, to re-do your resume you may need to write a draft, have it edited, and then finalize a copy. You may write out your goals and objectives in a way that flows from the first action you take to the final one. You may also choose to set goals as far as when you would like to complete each task. Then, you would decide what sort of interventions would help you achieve each objective or part of an objective. An example would be that, to have your resume edited, you may need to reach out to someone willing to lend you some time and expertise. You may set an end date of when you would like to re-evaluate your plan.

Maybe after three months or so, you could check to see – what objectives have you completed? What objectives were you unsuccessful at completing or did you not get to yet? Then you can update your plan to reflect what goals you are working on now. You might need to re-evaluate some objectives – sometimes objectives you don’t complete are objectives that just aren’t right for you, and they need to be re-written or scrapped altogether.

Another aspect of change and goal setting for many is a sense of accountability. I’m sure each of us can think of a time when we had a great plan in place, but it just faded away because there was no one there to keep us on track. If this feels familiar to you, you might want to find a friend or family member who is also looking to make positive change in their life, and see if they want to be an accountability partner with you. Perhaps you meet for coffee every month to check in, or just have a phone call now and then to see how goals are going.

I do not recommend doing weight loss challenges. I feel that they encourage disordered eating and negative body image, and also push others to further compare their bodies with others, with can be very troublesome. If you would like to change your eating behaviors, I would recommend moving towards variety, balance and moderation, and just comparing yourself to your own progress.

In our clinic we would say “Stay on your own place mat,” because comparing yourself to others isn’t fair. You don’t have their body, their food preferences, their family, their job or their life. You do what works for you, and that is all you can do. Please read my article on Relationships with food for more reflections from working with clients with eating disorders.

Making changes in our lives can feel daunting and difficult to approach. However, if we break down big goals into more “digestible bites” then it seems much more doable. It is never too late to to follow your authentic self and have the life you dreamed of.

Relationships with food

When we are babies, we associate our parents with love, and with their love, the nourishment they provide for us. As children, we may be rewarded with food, or maybe punished by taking it away. We may be taught to clean our plates, and taught that over stuffing ourselves is preferable to wasting food. As adults we may use food to comfort ourselves when we are down, or reward ourselves for a job well done. For those enmeshed in the diet culture, food may incite a myriad of emotions.

Although, biologically speaking, we only need food and drink as basic nourishment to fuel our bodies, we, as a culture, have expanded the use of food far beyond that. We learn to use it in many ways other than its actual purpose. As a result, our bodies are fed inappropriately, and we overfeed or underfeed ourselves, convinced that trying to morph our bodies is somehow a more logical answer than getting in touch with our bodies and finding the balance in which they function the best. We are taught that each passing diet fad is a “better” way to eat, and that by eliminating entire categories of macronutrients we will finally be able to turn our body into the body we have wanted for so long. We have hammered it into our heads that strict rules for health, like the BMI chart, must mean that being “obese” means being in very poor health, and that it is likely more of a character flaw than anything to blame, and that one must just buckle down and try harder.

Try to break away from all of the Netflix food documentaries and the Pinterest “nutrition” articles, and think about this. Your body is actually a highly-intelligent, self-driven machine that knows what it wants to eat, when it is hungry, and when it is full. If we can actually get in tune with these signals and are able to follow them, our bodies will find the balance they crave and will become the size and shape that they were intended to be. No two bodies are identical, and trying to have someone else’s body is futile – it is already taken, you only get the one you were given.

So many of us have gotten so far away from the signals of our own bodies, trying so hard to silence the hunger cues, or feeling that a sense of hunger is somehow a triumph over will. Consider that feeding your body appropriately will actually help you to think about food less. If you are constantly hungry throughout the day, your brain isn’t being fed properly, and will focus on food in an effort to get its needs met. If you allow yourself to eat what you crave in an appropriate way (an appropriate portion at an appropriate pace), or decide to eat it at the next appropriate time instead of making foods off limits, you take your focus off of those foods you are craving. If you respond to the signals from your body, it will stop sending them, and you can decide what to do with all that brainpower that is left over.

How do you get back in touch with the hunger and fullness sensations in your body if you have moved too far away from them? I would suggest seeing a RD (registered dietitian) who is eating disorder informed (it will help them be more sensitive to eating concerns) and getting on a sort of meal plan. Typically, the clients I see are on meal plans that consist of three snacks and three meals daily. After you get used to being on this pattern, your body starts to anticipate when it can expect food, and gets in sort of a rhythm. Then, when it is meal time, you should start feeling hunger. Concerning fullness, you want to shoot for being about 80-85% full, with the idea that it takes about 15 minutes for your brain to get the signal that your body has the food that is in your mouth right now, so about 15 minutes after you are done eating, you should be closer to 100% full.

The most common complaint I hear about being on a meal plan is that it feels like you are eating all day. It’s because you are, and you are supposed to be.  It is incredibly common for my clients to tell me that they “eat healthy” in the morning – which means that they restrict their food intake and only eat very low-calorie foods that often are not rich in fats or carbs. Then, when in comes to the afternoon or evening, they have been trying so hard not to eat the “unhealthy” foods that it becomes too much and they end up eating something they didn’t really want to be eating, and sometimes in an amount much greater than they had intended. If you are eating throughout the day, you are appropriately full on the things you crave, so there is no need to overindulge later.

Speaking of foods you crave – what about dessert? Dessert is just food. If your authentic self likes the taste of sweets, you should allow yourself about desserts. Again, it is important to consider “loving limits” and having about a maximum of an average of one serving per day. If you struggle with this idea, consider having dessert with dinner each night. If you find yourself waiting until the end of the meal to eat your dessert because “it is the best part,” you may want to try “eating in the round” – having a bite of each of the dishes on your plate, as well as a bite of dessert before going back and having a bite of each again.  This reinforces the idea that each of the bites is just food.

I can already see the eye-rolls from the iron-clad diet fans out there, but consider how much of your life, and your free time you devote to your food and your body. What would it be like to take some of that back? What would it be like to accept and respect your body for the incredible machine that it is, instead of rejecting it and constantly fighting it to change? What would it like to be at peace with your food?

If you or someone you know is struggling from an eating disorder, please seek help. They can be deadly serious, and are not your fault. Please see warning signs and symptoms here or call 1-800-931-2237 for help.

Serenity

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When I was in graduate school, I got a tattoo across my arm – “serenity.” It is scripted, and so often people ask what it says, and then still seem puzzled when I respond. For me, the meaning is twofold.

First, I had found a sort of peace and calm through meditation and mindfulness that I had never known before. I strive to find that peace and calm whenever I can. I try to build in comfort , and make time to find peace in my own mind.

Secondly, I was inspired by the spirit of the “serenity prayer.” If you are not familiar, it goes like this:

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”  -Reinhold Niebuhr

In an effort to feel in control of my own life, I had been exerting an enormous amount of effort trying to control things around me. For me the struggle wasn’t necessarily with substance use, as it is typically reserved for, but with the acceptance of what I did not have the power to control. Through accepting that you cannot control the decisions of others, or the weather, or traffic, a sort of calm and peace can emerge.

You may try to challenge yourself – identify a situation in which you are trying to have control when you actually do no. One typical example is road rage when you are stuck in traffic. It seems common for people to become overly upset about traffic patterns, but becoming upset does not change the outcome at all. Your anger, whether expressed internally or externally, does not the make the car in front of you go any faster.  In a sense, this is wasted energy that you could be using in a more positive way. What is one way you could exert what control you do have over the situation to make it more positive? For the traffic example, you may choose to find a song you love to sing along with (try the link for a list of some ideas), and play it with the windows down to enjoy the breeze.  You may pick a podcast or audiobook that you really enjoy (see links for some of my favorites to get started). You can step back from the situation, recognize where you do have control, and choose to make it a positive experience.

For me, my tattoo is a constant reminder to check my need for control. What do I have control over in this situation? What do I not have control over? How can I direct my energy towards something that will bring me joy instead of choosing frustration and misery? We can make the most out of this life by choosing happiness.

Finding Comfort

As a child, our parents are primarily responsible for giving us comfort. As we grow and mature, we take on that role ourselves. Yet, for many adults, the idea of comforting oneself can be foreign. In times of stress they may spin out, not having a way to slow down the chaos. And in a time of chaos, the last thing you want to do is brainstorm what to do to feel better. So, how do we build comfort into our lives in a way that works?

One of my clients had a brilliant idea – a comfort box. You could think of anything that makes you smile, makes you relax and makes you feel good. You might put pictures of comforting things/places/people in your box. You might put things that you can touch, feel, smell, wrap around you or experience with your senses in some way. You might put that one book or movie that you always come back to in your comfort box. You might include candles, music, or an oil diffuser with some essential oils. That way, when you experience stress, you can just go to your comfort box, with everything all ready to go.

Also, touch from others can go a long way. Get a hug from a friend or family member, or go for a massage. Spend some quality time petting your animals, or visit someone who will share theirs.

Figure out what works for you. Start a list, and if something doesn’t work for you, then agree to try it again a different time, or scrap it all together. Ask friends and family what works for them, and try their ideas out, too. In the end, you should be able to compile a list of activities that you can do to feel comforted. pexels-photo-935750.jpeg

Do more of what makes you happy

Hello! I am Nicole Lee, LICSW. Welcome to my blog!

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I am a clinical social worker who currently does therapy with clients identified with disordered eating. One of the first things I always ask my clients is – what do you do for fun? I get lots of sidelong glances from this one – I’m sure they are wondering how some random “fun” activity is going to help that raging “ED” (eating disorder) voice go away. Well what I find is that, especially in those with disordered eating, is that they have centered all of their free time around their eating disorder, and have nothing left that is just for fun anymore. By establishing a hobby, you can carve out time in your life just to relax and do what you enjoy. It sounds simple, but can have remarkable results. What do you like to do for fun?

If you struggle with any habits that you aren’t as happy with, such as disordered eating, you may try to create a list of positive activities you can do before using your less functional coping skill (i.e. binge eating, biting your nails, etc.). If you struggle to find activities that you like to do now, you may have to think back to another time when you did allow yourself to have hobbies and down time, and think what you liked to do then.

Some common activities you can do on your own might be reading (check out The Emily Program for some great suggestions for those struggling with disordered eating), meditating with an app on your phone or with You Tube, listen to cheery music or calling, texting or, best yet, face-timing with a support person. Also, watching some funny TV can help lift your spirits if you are down.

If you struggle with depression, anxiety, or ADHD symptoms, you might struggle with being fidgety. Sometimes going with the fidget and giving yourself something to do can help calm your mind. My favorite way to fidget is to crochet, knit or weave. If you have interest in learning how to do any of these, you can get supplies here, and there are plenty of tutorials online here. For the less crafty, there are a plethora of other way fun fidget toys to pick from here. You can combine the activities above with a fidget activity in order to keep your mind and your hands busy.

A huge contributing factor to depression and other mental health concerns is isolation. One way to increase your happiness is to increase your social time. Depression decreases motivation and takes pleasure away from the things you used to like to do, so getting out of the house and being social can be a push if you are suffering from these symptoms, but can be effective in increasing positive mood. If you are struggling to find motivation to do this, start slow – meet a friend for coffee or do something that is short in duration and a low-pressure activity. Work your way up from there.

As we say, “Fake it until you make it.” Slap on that smile, and your brain thinks you are happy. Go forth, find a hobby and have fun!