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How to Reframe Negative Self-Talk Around Body Image

December 11, 2019 Mary-Elizabeth Schurrer

If you have dealt with any patterns of disordered eating in your life, chances are these behaviors were—or continue to be—fueled by negative self-talk around body image. Since the brain is a complex, independent, thinking organism, self-talk is an intrinsic part of the human experience. You are hardwired for internal dialog with yourself, and this is not always problematic. That endless stream-of-consciousness in your head is shaped by the beliefs, perspectives, attitudes, and observations that help you negotiate the world around you. When used constructively, self-talk can empower you to confront fears, gain motivation or discipline, boost confidence, and strengthen areas of improvement. But if this self-talk turns critical toward yourself—in particular, how you look or what you weigh—it causes shame to take root and harmful behaviors to manifest which could result in an eating disorder. So it's important to learn how to reframe your negative self-talk around body image into a kinder, more compassionate dialog.

What It Means to Reframe Negative Body Image Self-Talk

Because negative self-talk is the outflow of a mindset that judges, berates, and criticizes, the most effective way to reframe that harmful messaging and promote a healthier body image is to drown out the criticism with affirmation. For instance, picture that eating disorder voice in the back of your mind as it whispers: 

"Those jeans you are wearing used to be looser around your hips, and that's unacceptable. Now you have to skip lunch and spend two hours at the gym this afternoon."

Is your instinctive reaction to feel ashamed, embarrassed, disappointed, or even infuriated with your own body? It's almost impossible not to hold yourself in contempt when the self-talk that influences your thoughts, beliefs, and actions is focused on all your perceived faults. This is why affirmation is a crucial weapon for your arsenal.     

Circling back to the scenario of your jeans not fitting as they used to, consider how your perception might transform from negative and insidious to positive and healing if you reframe the inner voice to sound like this:

"Those jeans emphasize your natural contours in all the right places. They accentuate the curves in your torso, and they show off the muscles in your thighs. They offer your legs the freedom of movement to walk through this day with comfort and ease. You look strong, able-bodied, and healthy in those jeans—you should wear them more often."

Does this approach—while counterintuitive—change your internal reaction? When you practice self-talk which affirms, instead of berates, it's easier to feel acceptance and gratitude for this unique, miraculous body that keeps you alive.  

Examples of Reframed Body Image Self-Talk that Work for Me

I constantly use this method of reframing as a tool to support my own eating disorder recovery. When I can shift my mindset to identify negative self-talk around body image, it enables me to consciously and proactively choose internal dialog that reinforces body confidence, rather than tearing it down. Here are some examples of how I reframe my own negative self-talk in order to construct a healthier body image and more empowered sense of identity.

  1. Instead of "My stomach is not toned or flat enough." -- "My stomach allows me to digest and absorb nutrients which keep me energized and active. At some point in the future, my stomach will also grow, sustain, and deliver a human life into this world."
  2. Instead of "My legs have too much cellulite on them." -- "My legs are the first part of me to touch the ground when a new day begins. They stabilize me if I feel unbalanced and propel me in the direction of experiences, adventures, and opportunities."
  3. Instead of "My arms are so weak and flabby." -- "My arms have literally pushed me off the floor during all those times I felt too broken to stand. They embrace my husband; they hold my niece; they reach out to my friends; they connect me with people."    
  4. Instead of "My weight is heavier than it should be." -- "My weight is normal for the particular body shape I was born with. I need this weight to perform all my activities with excellence, to be present in my relationships, and to maintain physiological function." 

APA Reference
Schurrer, M. (2019, December 11). How to Reframe Negative Self-Talk Around Body Image , HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, October 30 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/survivinged/2019/12/how-to-reframe-negative-self-talk-around-body-image



Author: Mary-Elizabeth Schurrer

Connect with Mary-Elizabeth on Facebook, Instagram and her personal blog.

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