To Stop All This Negative Self-Talk

One of my resolutions this year was to cease, once and for all, talking negatively about myself, both aloud to other people and silently, in my head. This resolution goes hand in hand with another one I scribbled down but eventually crossed out, which was to take greater care with my use of the English language. Generally my out-loud, among other people talk runs the usual girl gamut – God, I’m fat. That’s really the only truly negative thing I think I say about myself among company. I don’t engage too much in negative self-talk other than that, I don’t think – in conversations with S. sometimes I discuss struggles I have at work, and sometimes I beat myself up about not keeping up with the house or looking perfectly perfect, but I really don’t do a lot of I’m stupid or I’m ugly or anything like that. I have tried to start cutting myself some slack mentally, and I’ve also begun trying to forgive myself more, when my internal discussion goes negative – so, for instance, if I begin to feel some anxiety creeping around my periphery, instead of thinking I cannot believe I am so lame as to get panic attacks, why do I let this happen, etc. I sort of try and recognize that for better or worse this happens, and to a point it really isn’t my fault, and then forgive myself for the situation. I’ll write a little more about that during the hypochondria check in but it’s not that interesting, really.

What is interesting, at least to me, is how, when I decided in January to stop saying “I’m fat” in public, and at the same time, stop discussing food with other women in terms of whether it is “good” or “bad”, and whether we, ourselves, were “good” or “bad” for eating the food, and whether I felt “fat” or I felt “thin”- well, how truly impossible this resolution actually was to maintain and keep if I wanted to have any sort of conversation with other women in the workplace.

At some point in the last couple of years, I physically changed from being heavy to being…not heavy. I am by no means skinny – and that isn’t the ultimate goal, anyway, but I lost enough weight to be mostly normal (and here I am trying so hard not to complain about specific body parts, to NOT engage in this kind of body-hate discussion even though it is still my first instinct) and with the change in my body I truly felt a change in my outlook was appropriate. I could continue to berate myself our I could do what my mother always told me to do and embrace my curves and my smile and my hair and be happy.

I tried REALLY hard to stop saying the words “I’m fat.” I tried to stop participating in endless discussions about whether or not to eat one of the cupcakes someone brought into the office. I tried to stop endless conversations at restaurants about the merits of the ahi tuna tacos versus the bacon-wrapped halibut.

And do you know, it was virtually impossible for me to stop having these conversations? Food and weight seem to be the great conversational equalizer among women in the workplace – something everyone can talk about no matter our religion, our marital status, our political views. I even went so far, in the beginning of the year, to mention that I was no longer trying to lose weight, but that often would bring conversation to a screeching halt, because everyone, even the smallest, most in-shape women around me, were trying in some way, shape or form, to improve their bodies. It wasn’t long – a day, maybe – before I began feeling judged for my decision to accept myself – for the women around me to make me feel as though I shouldn’t just be happy with my body but should consider it, rather, a continuous work in progress.

Food talk begins in the morning, when most of my co-workers eat their breakfast. I always eat my breakfast at home because I believe any meal at a desk is uncivilized and I already too often eat my lunch at my computer, but most women, especially those with young children, don’t have the same luxury of time that I do, and so first thing in the morning conversations go something like this:

I am so bad, I am going to eat one of these bagels with this cream cheese. Nothing but fat and carbs, is what I’m eating today!

Oh, you aren’t as bad as me. I’m going to have a candy bar and a cupcake. I’m just a big, fat slob.

I’ve started eating this oatmeal that has flaxseeds in it because it’s supposed to help with weight control and cholesterol but it’s disgusting, I hate it.

Similar conversations occur throughout the lunch hour, where more often than not I will watch my co-workers graze on leftover sandwiches and chips from hospital events or microwave anemic Lean Cuisine pizzas or order huge pizzas quivering beneath a mountain of cheese and then talk, talk, talk about the merits of their lunches…those eating Lean Cuisines are “being good” that day while the women who caved to the call of Vocelli’s pan pizza are “being bad” but it’s okay because they will just eat grapefruit for dinner. And oh – dinner – how we talk about dinner! What we should eat versus what we will be eating, how if we just had time – that elusive way we measure our days – we would grill some fish and lightly steam some veggies but instead we end up picking up Mexican or Italian or Thai and then spend a few more hours feeling badly about the way we feed ourselves, the way we feed our families.

Privately, (and not so privately to those who know me well), I am wracked with food issues, which I will write about later in the month. But I grew up in a family with a father terribly concerned with his looks and his weight and he was always making us try this diet or that diet – foods constantly fell into different categories of “good” or “bad.” I recall my mom telling him time and time again he was going to ruin my relationship to food, and perhaps even my brother’s, if he didn’t stop forcing us on different “ways of life” but he steadfastly ignored her as as much as I adore my father for the hundred gifts he has given me throughout my life, from my passion for Yeats to my exhaustive knowledge of Stevie Ray Vaughn lyrics, I do at times resent all our conversations about food, and weight, and weight and food. I was pinpointed, almost from birth, as having my “fathter’s” genes…which meant I was prone to heaviness – the possibility of morbid obesity lurking just around the corner. My brother, on the otherhand, inherited my mother’s genes, which seemed to mean he could eat an entire turkey dinner and lose weight. I remember this in the same way I remember the smell of my mother’s Chanel No. 5 perfume and the taste of the cherries my grandmother would fish out of her Manhattans for me during cocktail hour. I remember.

Part of my decision to stop talking about the inherent goodness and badness of food, and to stop talking about my weight, came because S. and I hope to have a family, and I do NOT want to do this to my daughter if I have one. Surely she will be exposed to these kind of conversations someday, but I do not want her to ever see her mother engage in negative self-talk. I want her to remember, someday, the way I smelled and the treats I gave her and all the love in the world I had for her but I do not want her to ever recall me, standing in front of a mirror, sucking in my stomach, complaining about my weight, my hair, my face. I just – I do not want that.

I work concertedly everyday to not engage in these discussions, with my co-workers, with my husband, with myself, with my tremendously beautiful friends who are plagued with similar concerns, but more often than not, I fail. Why, I do not know. Maybe because food and weight are easier to talk about than anything else – maybe because eating should be a lovely way to fuel ourselves but instead, the choices each meal presents us with comes fraught with a thousand implications. I don’t know, but I do know I am going to try again, today.

For breakfast today I had a piece of spelt toast with peanut butter and the last of the raw honey from last summer, and a plateful of strawberries I bought at the farmers market last night. Today I will wear my black pencil skirt with a white blouse and my tortoise heels, and I will feel pretty. And I will try to not overthink lunch or dinner, and I will try to remember that right now, at 7:30 on Friday morning, I feel good, and I feel lovely.

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15 Responses to To Stop All This Negative Self-Talk

  1. If it’s any comfort, I’m fighting a similar battle: food issues from childhood, and an obsession, frankly, with good and bad food. I don’t have a negative self-image – unless I put on five kilograms and then you should see the drama.

    However, like you, I didn’t want to pass my issues on to my children, so I try extremely hard to keep this talk to a minimum.

    I just came back from a holiday with my mother, and realised that, like your female work colleagues, food talk is a form of bonding between us. Ad nauseum. Really, we are so boring, going on and on. I tried to be mindful and stop it, but it is one of the ways we feel close to each other. Ridiculous, isn’t it?

    I don’t know if you have come across Kate Harding’s fat acceptance blog Shapely Prose? I only lurk there, but it has been an amazing help for me in the process of dumping my size issues. I can really recommend it.

  2. Stefanie says:

    I think most women have the issues you write about so eloquently. I used to be really bad about berating myself for how I look and was a food Nazi, rarely allowing myself to have what I wanted or anything that tasted good.

    I have somehow managed to quit the food issues, though sometimes I still have body image issues. What turned it around for me was becoming a vegan so many years ago and having a husband who loves to cook. It is so much easier to eat healthy without thinking about it and even the indulgences are less fraught with angst. Oh, and I also tossed out the scale. I was obessed with weighing myself. I have no idea how much I weigh now until I go to the doctor for a check up. As long as my clothes fit the way they always have then I know I am doing ok.

    My coworkers who are all women at the moment, do the food thing all the time. Because they know I am vegan they have exempted me from being required to participate in the conversation. I can’t say what a relief that is!

    It sounds like you have a good start to your day today. I hope it ends as lovely as it has begun.

  3. inthemainstream says:

    Do you ever read blogs like Feed Me! or the F-Word? Those, among others, are great places for discussions like this.

    It is tremendously hard to avoid negative food talk, which is absolutely ridiculous. Accomplished, smart women and all they have to say is that they deserve that grapefruit for dinner? Absurd! Good to know that there are women out there striving to put an end to this nonsense.

  4. appellationmountain says:

    I have an ongoing dialogue with doughnuts. How I shouldn’t eat them, how I could eat just one quarter of a doughnut, how I really enjoy them and …

    I know what you mean, though, about shedding weight and still feeling fat. I’ve dropped more than 40 pounds in two years, and I’m still confused when I look in the mirror or buy clothing. That identity? It stays with you.

  5. gumbomum says:

    I long ago vowed not to partake in the negative “fat” talk and I mostly don’t. I just refuse to put any more negativity about food, weight, etc. out there in the world. It’s out there without my help! So far my daughter seems to be avoiding these issues, although she’s 10 and there’s plenty of time…

  6. Bluestalking says:

    I know what you mean … My psychologist gets so irritated with me for all my negativity toward myself. She ordered me to look in the mirror each day and say, “I love you.” Seems awfully odd, and I’ve only done it a couple times without rolling my eyes, but I guess I see her point. If you wouldn’t say something about another person, don’t say it about yourself. That’s the common wisdom. But it’s tough.

  7. lilalia says:

    Like the others commenters, I really feel where you are coming from. It’s a struggle for so many of us. I kept on thinking that with 40 and then 50 that these issues would eventually “go away”. They don’t. So count all your current efforts as forming constructive and creative foundations for future times.

    I don’t have any advice, but I must say that I still dream of a world where we all learn to love ourSelves just a little bit more than we seem capable of.

    My mother never liked her body and was very resentful of the overt sexuality of her three teenage daughters. Lots of trauma and negative self image occurred as a result. I am trying as best as I can to love my body for all its quirks, and communicate to my teenage daughter that her body and all of its quirks is a thing of beauty. Not, that it always works.

  8. musingsfromthesofa says:

    This is such a good post. I do not know a single woman (myself included) who does not have body issues that manifest in one way or another. I hate that I spend time even thinking about food; I hate more that I can get into the trap of judging myself by what I eat, creating a merit system wherein if I exercise I earn that piece of junk food; I hate that I also end up discussing food in precisely the terms you outline, even when I don’t intend to. It’s. So. Boring.
    I renew my vow to stop it. And also, to eat almond croissants for breakfast, every now and again.

  9. Emily Barton says:

    Let’s all make a pact not to talk so much about food and our bodies (unless we are praising our bodies for being the beautiful and efficient machines they are). I’m not very good at it, but I try. One little trick that (sort of) helps is when I can remind myself how lucky I am to have a fully-functioning body with all its parts. I need to appreciate what I have and quit worrying about what I don’t. Therefore, we should be grateful and happy every time we look at our bodies, because we never know what might happen to us. I might be in a terrible accident and lose a leg, or I might get cancer and lose a breast. And then, won’t all that silly nonsense, harping about my breasts being too small and my thighs being too fat, etc., seem like such a waste of time?

  10. Cam says:

    Oh Courtney! What a wonderful post. This is such an important issue. It amazes me that women of all sizes have these issues. I’ve met Emily, Charlotte and Ms Musings in person & I’m tempted, at first reading their comments, to think: you ever had food/body issues? Are you kidding? (Sorry, ladies, I know that is unfair.) But, then I think about how I thought I was fat when I was 20 and weighed 125, or 30 and weighed (post partum) 145, or now, at 49, when it is very depressing to admit that the scale tips at > 200. Why is it that we have such horrible opinons about our bodies and tie that so much to how we think of ourselves?

    I admire your determination to not pass this kind of obsession on to your children. I hope you felt as lovely today, in whatever kind of clothes you wore doing your Saturday routines, as you did on Friday morning in your smart outfit and awesome heels!

  11. Courtney says:

    Charlotte – I haven’t heard of Shapely Prose – thanks so much for the suggestion. I’ll check it out!
    Stefanie – I can see how choosing veganism would help with these issues, since you chose a very certain way to fuel your body. I’m allergic to soy and cutting that out of my diet has gone a long way to restoring my faith in my body since it feels good most of the time
    In the main stream – welcome! And I’ve read the F-word but not feed me – I’ll check it out immediately. I agree the F-word does an excellent job of tackling these issues although sometimes I feel very challenged by the blog…guess I’m not totally ready to accept myself yet, sadly.
    A – it IS you and you look amazing! But I know what you mean…a couple of weeks ago a sales lady insisted I try an outfit on in a medium even though I KNEW I was a large…turns out she was right…
    Bluestalking – I try similar tactics with myself – like make sure to forgive myself, and give myself grace but it is HARD.
    Lilalia – that is so sad re: your mother! I think I am lucky it was my father with the body issues, actually – I think having a mother with them would have been much worse.
    Musings – that’s truly the biggest problem, right? that it is BORING. Truly, we have other things to talk about!
    Emily – that works for me some of the time too but to be honest no matter what my issues end up overriding my practicality and THEN I beat myself up for not being grateful and appreciative…
    Cam – I am always surprised when the very thin women I work with have food issues as well but sometimes theirs are so much worse than mine! It just proves there is no telling…

  12. Steph says:

    love that last paragraph.

  13. Amal says:

    You ARE lovely, CG. Well said.

  14. bluebluesoup says:

    This is a great post, and something I’ve always struggled with too. Thanks for saying it so eloquently.

  15. I just refuse to put any more negativity about food, weight, etc. out there in the world

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