Your plan was to relaunch your regular gym and clean eating regimen on January 1. More than a week into the new year, that’s mostly fallen by the wayside. Logically, you know that your self-worth doesn’t rely on perfect attendance at SoulCycle. So why do so many of us drop into a shame spiral when we skip a few workouts or finish off a sugary treat?
“We’re in a society that hyper-values fitness and thinness, and we’re taught to be ashamed of feeling like we’re not to living up to expectation,” says Andrew Walen, a psychotherapist specializing in eating disorders and body image and the founder of The Body Image Therapy Center in Washington, D.C. Not sticking to a routine can also make you feel out of control, and that too tends to fuel anxious or depressive thinking, says Walen.
Maintaining your healthy food and fitness goals is hard work, and sometimes life gets in the way—or the couch and a Stranger Things binge session are calling you hard. Next time you start to feel guilty for what you view as slipping up, try these simple mental tricks, which will banish negative thoughts and empower you with body positivity.
Recite a mantra
Repeating an affirmation, song lyric, or some other catchy and motivational phrase might sound a little silly. But reciting inspiring words keeps you in the moment and gives your brain something to focus on, crowding out self-criticism while the mantra’s positive message sinks in, says Walen.
Next time you start to beat yourself up for ditching the treadmill, repeat your mantra out loud or in your head with intention. We like “I’m more than my body” and “I am beautiful” because these phrases are simple and super upbeat. But anything that resonates with you in a personal way will work just fine.
Banish ‘I should’ from your brain
Pay attention to key words in your own internal dialogue. “Every time you hear ‘I should’ or ‘I must,’ recognize that you’re punishing yourself for no reason,” says Walen. For example, if you’re spending time relaxing on the couch with family and suddenly catch yourself thinking, “I really should put on my gym gear and go for a run,” stop right there. Distract yourself with your social feed, a conversation with your partner, anything to get out of that negative head space.
Put on clothes that make you feel awesome
You should never feel bad about your body, but if you do, there’s no quicker way to start feeling sexy and attractive than changing into an outfit you know you look good in. “Dress in a way that makes you feel adventurous and flirtatious and desirable,” says Walen. “Don’t feel like you need to fit into a mold with what you wear—it’s a time to express yourself.” Whether it’s a revealing bandage dress or comfy jeans and sneakers, your clothes can switch up your mindset.
Don’t get sucked into someone else’s body criticism
Body shame is so prevalent in our culture, you might frequently find yourself caught up in other people’s body drama—such as a conversation about your sister’s failing efforts to stay on Whole30 or your coworker’s guilt about gaining a few pounds. Before their body negativity triggers your own dissatisfaction, change the subject, suggests Walen.
If redirecting the conversation isn’t your cup of tea, just leave the vicinity. Politely excuse yourself and spend time with people who are talking about something besides diet and exercise.
Be kind and forgiving—to yourself
When we feel guilty for not living up to our own (our society’s) expectations, we tend to punish ourselves for it—vowing to skip a meal to make up for a binge, for example, or overexerting ourselves at the gym to compensate for blowing it off all week. Problem is, doing this treats food and fitness as punishments, when they should be celebrations of your body and mind. So give yourself permission to make mistakes and enjoy life’s indulgences, with no regrets whatsoever.
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