A healthy body image and relationship with food goes beyond liking what you see in the mirror and eating “right.” It’s a combination of things. A positive body image includes developing healthy ways of coping with life’s stressors, listening to your inner voice (not the inner critic), feeling your emotions and even becoming more resilient.

That’s why I’m excited to feature my interview with Gail Brenner, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist who writes the fantastic blog A Flourishing Life. After linking to one of Gail’s posts on being whole on Weightless, I knew I had to interview her. Gail’s writing is thoughtful, insightful and inspiring.

On her blog, Gail also includes uplifting audio, which you can download for free. In addition, as a psychologist, Gail specializes in helping individuals untangle self-defeating habits and live conscious lives of intelligence, fulfillment and joy.

Below, in part one of our interview, Gail talks about the best coping strategy, self-care, asking yourself the essential questions and finding your true, positive inner voice.

Stay tuned tomorrow for part two of our interview!

Many of us seek comfort in all the wrong places – food, going on a diet, blaming and bashing ourselves. What are some healthy ways of coping?

I have great compassion for people who seek comfort in all the “wrong” places.  No matter what we do, healthy or unhealthy, all we want is to feel peaceful and happy.  Sometimes, though, we attempt to find peace and happiness by engaging in habits that don’t serve us.

The best coping strategy I know of, and the one that actually works, is to develop the capacity to be mindful of our thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations, and urges.  If we want a healthy lifestyle, awareness is the key.  Once we are conscious of the underlying motives that drive our unhealthy behaviors, we can, in any moment, make a choice that is supportive and life-affirming.  This is not a quick-fix solution, but it gets to the root of the problem so real, enduring change becomes possible.

When we become aware of our impulses to carry out unhealthy behaviors, we can choose healthier, more desirable ways of coping.  These include:

  • Taking a few moments every day to relax and be quiet
  • Celebrating our strengths and focusing on what is working in our lives
  • Doing activities that support our well being such as yoga, walks in nature, baths, and spending time with people we love
  • Allowing ourselves to experience pleasure in all forms
  • Bringing kindness to all the tender places inside of us.

Sometimes, we know what coping strategies work for us, but we’re simply too stressed out or exhausted to follow them. Anything we can do in the moment to provide fast relief in a healthy way?

Feeling stressed out and exhausted is a sign that we have abandoned ourselves.  It only takes one split second of awareness to lovingly turn our attention inside and begin to take care of ourselves once again.

This can be accomplished by something as simple as taking a few deep breaths that fill the lungs, inhaling oxygen into every cell, then exhaling out all the stress.  Or stopping for a brief rest to let all the tension fall away.

As the saying goes, though, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”  Rather than letting ourselves get to the brink with stress and exhaustion, can we wisely create a lifestyle of balance, self-care, nourishing relationships, and enjoyable activities?  We only have one go-around in this life, and we deserve it to be fulfilling in every way.

One of the most essential questions we can ask ourselves is, “What do I really want?”  We can then get serious about making the precious moments of this life express our deepest desires.

You’ve written about letting our inner voices guide our decisions. For many of us, that inner voice can be a negative one that says we’re not enough as we are. How can we discover our true inner voice? Is the inner critic part of our voice, too?

Our true inner voice, the one that guides us as we navigate the river of our lives, is not critical, demanding, belittling, or humiliating.  We know this inner guidance as the whisper of truth that is our gut feeling, the undeniable knowing that a given course of action is the right one for us.  It speaks quietly, directing us by a gentle nudge that tells us which way to go in our lives.

The inner critic is the harsh voice that develops from our early experiences with people around us.  We believe that we are damaged or lacking because of how we were treated by others.  The critical voice is learned; it is not a natural part of the human experience.  These negative beliefs begin to fall away once they are met with our love and understanding.

The true inner voice is always available, always tapping us on the shoulder.  Our job is to clear away enough mental noise so we have the space to listen to the guidance that is offered us.

Gail, thank you so much for an insightful and incredibly helpful interview! Remember to check out part two of our Q&A tomorrow.

What coping strategies do you use? Does your inner critic dominate your inner voice? How often do you ask yourself, “What do I really want”?