Each week we have a new opportunity to face old challenges. For us many of the challenges that we would like to tackle come in the form of habitual negative self talk. Changing this self talk is not easy, because it is already so second nature. Using mantras or affirmations is one way to counter the negative self talk. As it starts to creep in, acknowledging the negative behavior with kindness and then reminding ourselves of the positive mantra can be one step towards creating a healthy dialogue about ourselves, our bodies and our lives.
Mantras for Mondays is all about starting the week with a positive voice. The mantras that we will share are ones that are personal challenges for one or both of us. We will share the ways we are trying to implement the mantra in our own lives, as well as acknowledge the challenges we face in altering our own inner voice. We hope that you will join in the conversation about the mantras by sharing your own experiences in the comments. We recognize that one week is not enough time to change years of ingrained negative self talk, so if a mantra particularly resonates with you, we encourage you to continue your practice of that mantra for several weeks or even months. Additionally, you may find that the spirit of the mantra feels right to you, but that you may need to tweak the language for your circumstances. We are a community engaged in bettering ourselves and our world, so if you have suggestions for mantras we would love your input.
What does this Monday’s mantra mean to me?
I find it really difficult to separate my food choices from how I feel about myself and the way I talk to myself afterwards. In a lot of ways, my identity is tied in to my eating habits. I take pride in my ability to stick to relatively strict eating habits (avoiding processed foods and sugars, gluten free, vegetarian, etc.), and this sets me up to feel particularly awful when I make poor choices. This Monday’s mantra is about adjusting my mindset so I don’t end up shaming myself for making a less healthy food choice.
I am most likely to start criticizing myself when I end up eating mindlessly in front of the TV. Yesterday I was feeling a little hungover after attending my work holiday party Saturday night. I spent the whole day laying around watching reality TV and couldn’t resist snacking all day. By the end of the day, I felt like I had eaten twice as much as what I probably needed. When I overeat like that, I will go to bed feeling like I totally failed at controlling myself. To try and counteract this tendency, I tried to remind myself that I am more than what I eat. By using the mantra, I can focus on all of the great accomplishments of the day and the things I have to look forward to rather than focusing on what I did or didn’t put in to my body.
Through cultural representation, women are instructed to fit into certain body types and even eat in certain ways. Foods like salads are portrayed as feminine. With the rise of fitness and health food culture, these representations are more rampant, and those who achieve health are portrayed as superior. For me this particular image of how women should look and what they should eat in order to look this way was compounded by my participation in cross country, a sport that pushes athletes towards thinness, often to the point of performance loss. The outside societal pressures combined with years of a team culture focused on thinness and healthy food, has left me talking to myself about the food I eat in hurtful ways.
For me this mantra is about removing both guilt and shame from the decisions I make around eating. I need to recognize that I should make healthy food choices, but that these healthy food choices do not define my value as a person. Like Madeleine, it is easy for me to get wrapped up in putting myself down for overeating or indulging in a food that I have deemed “unhealthy”. When I feel too full, I am often also full of regret and shame, which impacts my mood. My husband is constantly telling me to let these things go; I am generally a healthy eater, and if I enjoyed an indulgent food, I should be happy about how delicious it was, and if I ate too much I should just let the feeling of fullness pass. I recognize that these are true statements, but the change must come from within and cannot rely upon his reassurance alone. I also know that I must stop seeing healthy eating as somehow superior. Healthy foods make my body feel great and will hopefully lead to a long life, but they do not make me a more morally superior individual. Because healthy eating is often praised by those around me, it is easy to feel this way, which makes the unhealthy choice feel so much more inferior.
What will be the challenge?
At this point, these sorts of thought cycles focused on analyzing my food choices are so habitual the hard part will be recognizing when I start to self-shame so I can break the cycle. I know that a well ingrained habit can be really difficult to break. I need to stay aware of my thoughts and work to guide them in a more compassionate direction.
The thought patterns around food have been ingrained for me since my teenage years. Growing up I used to define days as “good food days” and “bad food days”. I have worked on my thinking patterns and no longer end my day by recounting all of the food I have eaten. Even though I do not let my food choices define the quality of my day, I do let them impact my thoughts and impact the quality, spending large chunks of time thinking about what I “shouldn’t” have eaten.
How will I stay positive and focused?
It’s important for me to remember that these sorts of positive changes take practice. I shouldn’t get down on myself if I can’t immediately reframe my mindset. Rather than feeling hopeless, I can choose to come back to my positive mantra, and trust that with time I will see an adjustment in my thought patterns. By continuing to practice speaking kindly to myself and focusing on all of the things I am proud of about myself, I can gradually begin to change the way I respond to what I eat.
As I start to spiral into negative self talk: “you shouldn’t… “you are going to (get fat, be less fit, have bad health)”, “you are inferior for eating that”, I will acknowledge the thoughts and say to myself “you are more than what you eat”. I am so many other things than the food I put into my body: an educator, an athlete, a writer, a sister, a wife, a daughter, a friend. I am smart, funny, compassionate and driven, and what I eat or do not eat has no bearing on these wonderful characteristics about me.
Tell us what you think. Does this mantra resonate with you? Have you practiced a similar mantra before? Share your experience in the comments.