Self-talk is the way we talk to ourselves. Those with good mental health usually have a more encouraging and positive inner dialogue. However, when you struggle with an eating disorder or negative body image (or depression or anxiety), you often have some pretty harsh self-talk that becomes part of your every day experience. Sometimes you may not even realize how many negative things you say to yourself because you are so used to it. During this season of giving, why not give generously to yourself by improving your own self talk? Here are some ways to shift your self-talk to be more generous when you’re struggling with an eating disorder.
1. “It’s ok if I overate. Lots of people overeat when they are celebrating and enjoying company. Overeating isn’t a failure, and I don’t have to compensate for it.” When practicing Intuitive Eating, under- and overeating sometimes are both normal. Eating for social reasons, for pleasure, and for celebrations is also normal.
2. “I don’t have to eat like I won’t get this yummy food again because I’m not going to be restricting in January like the rest of the folks that participate in diet culture.” When folks have a sense of food deprivation, they often eat more amounts and more foods that they actually don’t even like. If you’re not starting a diet in January, then you won’t feel a need to overeat the foods that others might start restricting after the holidays.
3. “I know that person means well; they probably just don’t understand how triggering that comment was.” People are going to say insensitive things, and usually it’s because they don’t know how it comes across. No one can be non-offensive and non-triggering at all times. It is your job in recovery to learn how to deal with triggering comments and situations because avoiding all triggers is impossible.
4. “I don’t have to be the thinnest, best-dressed, or prettiest person in the room. I’m going to enjoy celebrating with my friends/family/coworkers instead of comparing my appearance to others.” Sometimes dressing up for an occasion can be stressful when your body has changed and clothes don’t fit the same way. Try to plan ahead and find clothes that fit comfortably. Remember that your body is an instrument, not an ornament to sparkle for everyone else’s pleasure.
5. “It’s ok if I look different from last year. Bodies change, and that’s ok. If others are judging me, that says more about them than it does about me.” Sometimes we may worry that others will notice weight gain (or loss), especially when we are worried about sending out pictures on our holiday greeting cards or seeing people we haven’t seen all year. Remember that your health and well-being cannot be discerned by your body size. If others are making derogatory comments about your weight gain, that’s because they most likely have biases that they haven’t explored. How sad for them.
6. “Fat is not a feeling. What going on that is causing me to put negative labels on my body instead of tuning in to my emotions?” Catch yourself anytime you are speaking harshly to your body. Eliminate terms like “fat slob,” “disgusting,” “gross,” “flabby,” and other unkind words you would never dare say aloud to your friends. Focus on recognizing and expressing your underlying emotions.
7. “It’s ok to rest or say no. That doesn’t make me lazy or unkind. I’m setting healthy limits so I can function my best during this busy season.” You may not be able to make it to every party, every dinner, or return every gift. You may not be able to exercise regularly. That’s ok. You can’t be expected to keep a perfect schedule during the holidays. Sometimes your body needs more rest when situations are more stressful. Rest is just as needful as activity.
8. “My body deserves fuel every day no matter what my eating was like yesterday.” If you ate “too many” sweets yesterday, you can still feed yourself regular meals and snacks the next day. You don’t need to follow up overeating with restricting or purging or over-exercising. Don’t set yourself up for a binge-purge or binge-restrict cycle.
9. “There’s always a way to get back on track and do the next right thing. Acting on my eating disorder doesn’t mean I’ve failed. I can still enjoy the holidays.” If you act on and eating disorder behavior over the holidays, it doesn’t mean that you have ruined the season or messed up your life. Use self-forgiveness, confess to your support person, and do the next right thing.
10. “Perfection isn’t what makes the holidays wonderful. It’s the knowledge and hope that we can one day overcome our weaknesses that makes it wonderful.” Give yourself a break on trying to create the perfect experience for your loved ones during the holidays. You don’t have to have a perfectly clean house, a perfectly decorated tree, or all the right gifts. You won’t have perfect interactions with family and friends, and you may make mistakes. It’s ok. Try to focus on the reason for the season, whether that is God, a Savior, good will, joy, or love. Those transcendent values will offer more reasons for joy than perfection.
I hope this helps you elevate your conversations with yourself to be more loving, accepting, and generous. Remember the famous quote by Marcia Hutchinson, “If you talked to your friends the way you talked to your body, you’d have no friends left at all.” Maybe try making a rule: If you wouldn’t say it to your friend, don’t say it to yourself! What phrase will you be incorporating this holiday season as a gift to yourself?