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Body Image & The Diet Mentality: Letting Go of Shame

Every Monday features a tip, exercise, inspiring quote or other tidbit to help boost your body image. For many of us, Mondays are tough. We may feel anxious and stressed out, anticipating an arduous week, especially if we didn’t get much rest and relaxation during the weekend. These kinds of feelings don’t create the best environment for improving one’s body image. In fact, you might be harder on yourself and easily frustrated. You might even feel like you’re walking on egg shells – with yourself! With these posts, I hope you’ll have a healthier and happier body image day, that’ll last throughout the week.

Got a tip for improving body image? Email me at [email protected], and I’ll be happy to feature it. It can be anything you do that’s healthy and helps boost your body image. I’d love to hear from you!

Have you ever said the following to yourself?

  • I was bad today (about what you ate).
  • I’m embarrassed to go out because I feel too fat.
  • I’ve let myself go.
  • I’m ashamed to eat in public.
  • I’m too ashamed to be seen in public.

I bet that not only have many of you said these statements to yourself but you probably think that it’s no big deal. Some of the statements probably roll off your tongue in the same way you say hello: automatically, casually and as part of a regular routine (They did for me).

These statements come from one of my favorite books, The Diet Survivor’s Handbook: 60 Lessons in Eating, Acceptance and Self-Care*, by sisters and therapists Judith Matz and Ellen Frankel. In their book, they talk about what is “perhaps the most insidious part” of yo-yo dieting: shame. They refer to shame as a “deep, pervasive experience of self-loathing that seeps into the core of your being.”

The above are “shaming statements that go to the core of how we experience ourselves,” they write.

When we “fail” at a diet, we rarely blame the actual diet. More likely, we blame our disgusting willpower-bereft selves. And the shame seeps in. A similar thing happens when we flip through magazines, step on the scale, shop for clothes or see family after we’ve gained weight, write Judith and Ellen.

“The truth is we live in a shame-based culture that says that if your body differs from the coveted thin physique, something is intrinsically wrong with you and in need of fixing.” They also write, “You feel ashamed that you have not changed your body in the way you feel you must in order to be happy and successful.”

But the thing about shame is that it stomps on your body image, on self-care and on your health and well-being. It squashes your spirit. And, most important of all, you deserve better.

Squashing the Shame

Here are a few ways to squash that undeserved shame instead.

  • Put the blame where it belongs: the society, which pushes an unrealistic and unattainable ideal. “You believe that your shame originates from a personal source, a flawed body and character, rather than originating from a culture that creates the shame and offers the solution of dieting, which fails almost every time,” write Judith and Ellen.
  • Speaking of which, it’s a fact that diets fail 95 to 98 percent of the time. And that’s really important to realize.
  • Understand that the diet industry is big business. They’ll tell you anything you want to hear to sell their product.
  • Learn how the body and that calorie balance equation really work.
  • Turn to inspiring works that focus on diverse body shapes and sizes.
  • Reconnect with your body.
  • Know that just because society stipulates that everyone look a certain way doesn’t mean you have to internalize it! The reality is that people of all shapes and sizes are beautiful and worthy – worthy of respect, kindness, self-care and love.
  • Check out this week’s interview with Judith and Ellen! I’m super thrilled to feature a comprehensive interview with these incredible women for the next three days. In the interview, they describe what it means to be a diet survivor and to have a healthy relationship with food. They also share valuable insight and activities to improve your self-image and relinquish the diet mentality. So please stay tuned tomorrow for part one! Update: Here’s the link to part one of our interview.

Reader Tips

Kimberley Pledger of Massage & Touch Therapy emailed me her suggestions for improving body image. She wrote:

Use a body cream or moisturizer every day and apply it mindfully – really feel every stroke as you massage it into your skin. Choose a cream that has a fragrance you love so that when you use it you feel happy and uplifted.

Have a massage – this might seem a daunting task if you are someone with body image issues, but over time the non-judgemental acceptance of your body that your therapist will give you will start to rub off on you too. Not only that, you’ll start to live more in your body which means you’ll experience the world around you more fully and when that happens life is good.

Thanks Kimberley for the great tips!

Do you feel ashamed because of your body? How do you work through the shame? How do you improve your body image?

* Full disclosure: I received the book from the publisher.

Body Image & The Diet Mentality: Letting Go of Shame

Margarita Tartakovsky, MS

Margarita is an associate editor at She writes about everything from taking compassionate care of yourself at any weight, shape, and size, to coping healthfully with difficult emotions. Her goal is to give readers practical, empowering tips to better their lives, and to remind you that whatever you're struggling with, you're never, ever alone.

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APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2010). Body Image & The Diet Mentality: Letting Go of Shame. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 8, 2020, from


Last updated: 17 May 2010
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