I woke up this morning feeling “off” – an hour later than planned, still groggy, a nagging feeling of anxiety, some rogue back pain (is this what my thirties will be like?). I went through my normal morning routine, but when it came time to get dressed and ready for the gym, the negative self-talk switched from a whisper to a scream. None of my clothes “fit right,” this body part looks too big, this body part looks too small, how did I let things get this out of hand, I must look awful, I NEED TO EAT LESS.
This thought pattern is familiar. It’s been with me for almost 20 years, and it’s comfortable. I know how to let this turn into a full-on downward spiral of obsessive calorie tracking, overexercising, and self-hate. Some part of me wants to revert to this familiar cycle (because it means I’d be thinner, and to this part of my brain, that is always better). I want to prove that I have control over myself and my life by altering my body to look the way a “fitness professional” is supposed to look. I KNOW that this will only cause more pain in the long run, but the pull of my old pattern is strong, and the feeling of control is addicting.
Some of you might feel seen right now. If so, I understand. Stick with me.
Sometimes I give in to this addiction, but in the last year or two, I’ve gotten better at making a different choice. Forging new patterns, like building a new habit, is difficult at first. It requires conscious decision-making. You need to choose to do the harder thing, over and over again, despite what your own thoughts are telling you.
Today, I’m choosing to be kind to myself, by making the following decisions that go completely counter to what my ingrained self-hating habit would want me to do:
Decision one: making a promise to myself that I will not choose negative self-talk today. Never break a promise you make to yourself.
Decision two: find something to wear. Make it comfortable, and forgettable. I have a few pieces of clothing that are go-tos on bad body days. Think looser, well-draped clothing, so nothing is digging in and I’m not as conscious of how my body looks or how much space I’m occupying. I want to feel neutral about my body in my clothes on these days. I’m not going to feel cute, even in my favorite pieces, so I save those for another time.
Decision three: eat something nutritious. My old pattern veers towards either binging on snacky food (when I feel the situation is hopeless) or fasting (when the urge to control is strong), so it’s very important for me to eat something. I make an effort to choose a meal that feels nutritious to me during these times, so think something heavy on protein and veggies. I can recognize that this is a loving choice for myself, even when I really don’t want to eat.
Decision four: some kind of movement. Again, going counter to choosing self-hate, choose a movement that feels good and isn’t excessive. I chose to go to the gym and follow my pre-written program to a T. No throwing in extra sets to failure, no adding in a few miles on the treadmill. Do the work, feel good seeing what your body is capable of doing, go home and recover. On a nicer day, this might have looked like taking the dog for a walk through Schenley Park, but it could also be a few minutes of stretching on the floor, or getting friends together for pickup basketball – whatever makes you smile a bit without meaning to.
Decision five: refocus your attention, preferably on someone else you care about. Call a friend, or your mom, or your grandmom, and really, genuinely ask them how they’re doing. Listen to them, commiserate with them, be there for them. Take your attention off yourself. When you really sit and think about it, this addiction to self-hate is incredibly selfish and egotistical, isn’t it?
Decision six: gratitude. It really always comes back to this. Now that you’ve spent some time focused on something or someone else, sit down and write out 5 things you’re grateful for, right now. It doesn’t matter what they are, just recognize the good in your life.
And now, go about the day. Will you suddenly love how you look? My experience says no. But you definitely made a dent in kicking an old, unwanted habit. You did some healthy things for yourself physically. You connected with someone you love, and you found positive things in your life that you’re grateful for. That could mean a day salvaged, if you choose to look at it that way. There’s decision seven.