creative joy, hearts

Today, I’m honored to share a guest post by Darla Breckenridge, MS, a psychologist specializing in binge eating at Green Mountain at Fox Run, a women’s healthy weight retreat. In 2011, Darla co-authored Journey into Self: A Hundred Days of Guided Mindful Reflection.

Below, Darla explores what we can do when we don’t love our bodies and any positive body talk feels oh-so faraway. She offers a powerful and valuable technique that leads us away from body hatred and onto a more positive — and feasible and authentic — path.

When we have talked negatively to ourselves for decades, body love or accepting our body “as is” feels phony, far-fetched, or like it’s settling. In addition, our culture supports women fixating on what’s “wrong” with our appearance… our weight, our wrinkles, our waves… there are diets, creams and straightening irons to fix all those “problems.”

Many experts will tell you that self-love is the path to self-care. After all, we take better care of what we love, right?

But for many women, instant love of body and self is a laughable concept. The jump from body hate to body love feels like a huge chasm that makes changing self talk feel nearly impossible.

At Green Mountain at Fox Run, a retreat for women who struggle with overeating and weight, it’s not uncommon for the women we work with to demonstrate an allergic reaction to positive body talk.

The terrain feels so unfamiliar and disingenuine that they immediately shut down the possibility of ever being able to love their bodies. Their predominant voices say, “My thighs are huge,” “I wish I had a smaller waist,” or “I hate my frizzy hair.”

The problem is the more negative self-talk and self-hate we engage in, the worse we feel, the more we eat to cope, the more our self-loathing grows (body and self), the more we eat to cope. Negative body image, fat talk and self-loathing are issues that are intricately intertwined with emotional and binge eating.

Enter Body Neutrality

Halfway between body hate and love is a rarely-visited destination: body neutrality. Not to be confused with body positivity or body acceptance, it’s a strategy to decrease self-hate and negative self-talk.

Body neutrality acknowledges “what is,” rather than longing for “what isn’t.” And it can be a place to start when body positivity feels like too much of a reach.

One of the ways to find out how you talk to yourself is to stand in front of a mirror and listen. Write down what you say to yourself. Is it complimentary or overwhelmingly critical? This should tell you where you are on the self-talk scale.

If the self-talk you hear is mostly negative, remember that moving from body hate to body positivity is a process, not an event. And you may need to take baby steps, using body neutrality as a rest stop for a while.

From a body neutral place, you may be better able to accept body positive messages. Here’s how:

  1. Acknowledge that the negative self-talk is there.
  2. When you hear it, breathe as a way to create the space so you can move from reaction to response.
  3. Validate the body hate. Say, “I know you and though you might be trying to help me, I’m going to try it a different way.”
  4. Practice progressive affirmations, starting with body neutral ones and growing into body positive ones, as you feel ready. An example might be starting with the neutral statement, “It is important to take care of my body,” and moving onto, “I bless my body with love,” when it feels authentic.

Along the way, you might go one step forward and then two steps back. Go back to the affirmation that feels believable and stay there a while longer.

By continually cutting off the negative thoughts, they’ll begin to diminish, and you can progress. But the key is cutting the supply of oxygen to the negative ones that have held court in our neural pathways for so long to make room for the neutral and positive ones.

For some, reaching body neutrality may still be difficult. When all else fails, just look at the facts.

Focus on what your body does for you. “I’m a fat slob,” is not a fact, but “My legs are strong and took me up that hill today” is a fact. “I hate my jiggly arms,” is not a fact, but “These arms carry my child” is a fact.