The Maintenance Library - TFL Key #6: Learn The Art Of Positive Self-Talk

02-13-2005, 09:53 AM
Key #6: Learn The Art Of Positive Self-Talk

Chapter 6 is the shortest chapter of Thin For Life, but one of the most important because it focuses on the ‘head stuff’ that we always talk about in Maintainers – the constant internal dialogue that we have with ourselves about weight loss and maintenance. I’ve always believed that 98% of maintenance (and weight loss, for that matter) happens in our heads, not our bodies, and this chapter backs up the importance of self-talk to our success.

What is ‘self-talk'? Simply, it’s what you say to yourself. Why is it important? Because negative self-talk can actually TRIGGER destructive feelings and behaviors. In contrast, positive self-talk can be a tool to control eating both as you’re losing and as you’re maintaining:
People whose negative, self-defeating self-talk outweighs their positive, coping thoughts tend not to do well in their weight management efforts … In general, the person who has the greatest chance of achieving long-term weight management success will engage in more self-talk that reflects flexible thinking, how-to-cope thoughts, pats-on-the-back thoughts, more self-confident thoughts, and thoughts reflecting assertiveness and coping skills. (p 180)

An example of negative self-talk is the ‘now I’ve blown it’ phenomenon (pp 180-181) – bet this one’s familiar to all of us ;):

'I ate a cookie and now I’ve blown it so I may as well eat the whole bag (or take the rest of the day off from dieting, eat these M&Ms, have McD’s for dinner etc … )'

What if we changed the words that we used in our heads to describe what happened? Instead of: 'now I’ve blown it', substitute 'OK I had a cookie that I hadn’t planned, but it’s no big deal if I stop right now and get back on track. One cookie isn’t going to make me gain weight'.

Same situation, very different outcomes based on what we say to ourselves.

The book sets out two reasons why negative self-talk is so harmful to our weight loss efforts (p 181): first, it leads to ‘slips’ in eating behavior, as illustrated in the cookie example. Second, it can lead to feelings of depression and hopelessness and we all know where those feeling can take us – right to the bottom of a pint of Ben and Jerry’s :devil: . Too often, though, we really aren’t aware that we’re doing it – negative self-talk is so deeply ingrained in us that it’s just a normal part of our lives. If you don’t believe me, just spend a half-hour reading the various forums here at 3FC and look for all the negative self-talk. It’s enough to make you want to cry. We may be overweight, but that doesn’t make us bad people. Really!

So how do we become aware of negative thinking and turn it around into a positive? The chapter discusses a technique called ‘cognitive restructuring’ (pp 183-185):
Step One: detect your self-statements - listen to what you’re saying to yourself as you go through your day.
Step Two: evaluate your self-talk - is what you’re saying to yourself true, rational, sensible and helpful? Would you say this to someone else in this situation?
Step Three: turn the negative self-talk into positive - stop the negative thought in its tracks.

What are some of the common forms of self-talk that dieters find themselves using? The book lists eleven categories (pp 186-191):

1. Self-fulfilling prophesies: telling yourself something WILL or WON’T happen (I won’t be able to control myself when I go to the party tonight)

2. All or nothing self-talk: black and white thinking (I’m either ON the diet 100% or I’m way OFF) (see last week’s discussion of lapses vs. relapses)

3. Body issue or weight-related self-talk: unrealistic goals or not being satisfied with your rate of weight loss (I only lost two pounds this week; what did I do wrong?)

4. Catastrophic self-talk: thinking that the worst will happen or things are horrible (I ate a cookie; now I’m going to gain all the weight back)

5. Rationalizing self-talk: making excuses in order to allow yourself to overeat (I had a hard day at work and deserve a treat)

6. Self-deprecation: demeaning or putting yourself down, calling yourself names (I’m a fat pig with no willpower)

7. Punishing self-statements: beating yourself up for lapses (I am the scum of the earth for eating that cookie)

8. 'Should' self-statements: beliefs about obligations that don’t make sense (I should eat this chocolate cake so it doesn’t go to waste)

9. 'Have-to-have' food thoughts: telling yourself you can’t control yourself around food (whenever I see chocolate, I have to have some)

10. Dealing with saboteurs self-talk: giving in to food pushers (Mom made this cheesecake especially for me so I have to eat it)

11. Poor-me self talk: believing that life is unfair because we have to watch what we eat and exercise (boo hoo – dieting is hard and my skinny friends get to eat what they want)

Ever hear talk like that in your head?

The key is to take each of these situations and figure out a way to turn the negative into a positive. Many of the successful maintainers do this by looking back at how far they’ve come and realizing how much better off they are now:
The clear message from the masters is: Challenge your negative, defeating self-talk with thoughts about your accomplishments. You’ll come to believe in yourself more and more. (p 192)

So here’s the assignment for the week, gang :D – monitor your self-talk for a few days, figure out if it’s positive or negative, and think of ways to turn negative thoughts into positives.

Let’s talk about self-talk … do you consciously talk to yourself? Would you say it’s positive or negative? Do you consciously try to turn negative thoughts around? Can negative thoughts ever be useful to you?

Golden Girl
02-13-2005, 07:54 PM
:devil: The devil made me do it!! :lol:
Just kidding. #2 is my biggie. The all or nothing attitude. And yes, I talk to myself all the time. Sometimes out loud...that comes with age!! :lol: I know I have this attitude, #2, but it's hard to stop it. I thought I'd conquered it when I was maintaining so beautiful for 19 months BUT..........not so, I'm back to my negative, I call it stinking feelings and self talk!
I don't try and turn it around. I say yep, there is my all or nothing attitude. Resigned to it? Ok, this week I will try and change it around. Will let you know how well I do Meg.

02-21-2005, 07:45 AM
Hi Maintainers,

Meg, I fully agree. This negative selftalk thing is bothering me at a LOT of things and i'm trying now to turn it around to some more positive things. Especially #5:"I had a hard day so I deserve this chocolate" is my weak point eatingwise.


02-21-2005, 09:22 AM
I think this is possibly one of the most important topics in TfL--kind of surprised it hasn't gotten more discussion here. Without the mental tools to be successful, all the rest, the smart eating, the exercise can be undermined so easily. I think I have fallen prey to all of the categories of negative self-talk.

I think it is vitally important to remember that the mind LIES.

Fletcher has outlined some powerful techniques for dealing with this. I know that when I'm doing a good job of catching the lies, I do well on my plan. When I don't, well, I don't. The cognitive restructuring is very powerful. Meg paraphrased it very well.

* Step One: detect your self-statements - listen to what you’re saying to yourself as you go through your day.
* Step Two: evaluate your self-talk - is what you’re saying to yourself true, rational, sensible and helpful? Would you say this to someone else in this situation?
* Step Three: turn the negative self-talk into positive - stop the negative thought in its tracks.

As much as I love exercise, if I had a single most important key to maintenance, this is it.


02-26-2005, 12:51 PM
Anne – this is one of the most important keys for me too. And I liked the realistic approach: you’re not supposed to wipe out all negative thinking – it’s just a matter of getting a balance: “aiming for a ratio of about 2 to 1, positive to negative.”

I’m still a bit shaken up after my recent relapse, and want to learn more about how my head works when it comes to food and eating; so I took up Meg’s challenge and monitored my self-talk for 2 days. I’m probably in a good place with my eating just now, but even in an “optimal food modus” I still found myself doing the ‘all-or-nothing’, ‘catastrophic’ and ‘should-self-statements’ surprisingly often. Along with some of the others.

The monitoring part of this assignment was surprisingly difficult to do, btw. I came up with countless excuses why monitoring would be a waste of my time. I think it was the complete overkill of excuses I came up with that made me think that I might find something interesting here. It looked a little like a too heavy defense to me! (Yes, I’m a psychology student, why do you ask?! :D) It was also hard work to actually do!
After 2 days of monitoring I evaluated the written list of my self-talk statements, and when I sat down to go through my thoughts I tried to look at them a bit objectively. I tried to see whether I agreed, whether they were true or sensible? Just like Fletcher suggests. And I found that many of them were complete rubbish, exaggerations, or groundless! :yes:
I used the very good question “Would you say this to someone else in this situation?” to come up with good answers/responses to my negative self-talk statements. So that the next time I think to myself “I’ll probably gain all the weight back” hopefully two things will happen: 1) I will become aware that I’m doing the catastrophic negative self-talk again, and: 2) I’ll stop up for a second and tell myself that I will not. That I am able to keep this weight off.

04-19-2006, 09:29 PM
I am surprised this chapter hasn't gotten a lot more responses also.

This is one of the most important chapters. Positive self-talk is not easy especially when you are constantly being reminded of what you’ve done to yourself.. every time you look in the mirror, try to run, to wear something you once wore all the time, seeing yourself in pictures… yes.. the list goes on. I do my best not to remind myself negatively. But still be realistic in accepting reality.

When I first saw the title of this chapter I thought I could just breeze right through it. “It doesn’t really apply to ME,” I thought. Because I don’t beat myself up about "little" choices. Or moan and groan when I’ve eaten something not so good for me. But then I kept reading.. yes sometimes I went ahead and ate another of this or that because “what the heck, I already had one and one more won’t make a difference.” It made sense to me.. THEN..

But I probably do beat myself up about the accumulative choices. The result it has had on me. I think when I am not eating well or exercising, I avoid taking care of myself in other ways. The way I dress, the things I do or don't do. I think I've managed to punished myself without the bad talk.

Sometimes that voice in my head sounds so positive. Like exercise. In such a sweet voice it comes up with all kinds of reasons why it’s ok not to exercise or why I should go ahead and cut my workout short. Sad thing is I used to listen to it all of the time. And even now I find that I still do. But this chapter has helped me see that this voice is not being supportive. It is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I think this is what chapter 6 describes as “Rationalizing self-talk” In a nutshell, “THE MIND LIES!!!!!!”

I’ve got to listen to this voice with a different ear.

A quote I need to keep in mind.. not just daily .. but all day:

“… you may go through an entire day without monitoring what you say to yourself. This doesn’t mean that your thoughts are unconscious- only that you seldom make an effort to listen in on them.” P. 183

04-21-2006, 07:27 PM
I've been monitoring my self talk these past few days to see if and how I use positive self talk. Since the area I am focusing on now is establishing routine and an exercise plan, I paid close attention to those areas.

Some of the things I said to myself were very constructive and full of self praise. But I also noticed something else. Just as the mind lies... I consciously LIE! I've been telling myself that I love exercising. That is not entirely true. But yet I've been telling myself that I do so much that I really think I am beginning to love it.

Until I sincerely find that I love exercise I will happily continue to lie to myself about it. :D

06-10-2007, 07:12 AM
My DH and I talked about this chapter at dinner last night.

I think one of the reasons it hasn't gotten more responses is that it's 'old news'. We've all read something like the 'Power of Positive Thinking' or 'Think and Grow Rich'. I remember reading TfL the first time and almost skipping this chapter. "OK, OK ... I'm worth it, I'm strong, I'm capable ... ya ya ... blah blah ..."

Too many of us temper our enthusiasm with 'wisdom'. We're smart enough to be realistic. We don't think "I can be slim and fit." We know the facts ;) ;) ;) . It's more like "I can be as nearly slim and sorta fit as is possible for someone as slouchy, old, lazy and half-hearted as me". We're savvy enough not to fall for that rah rah broohaha.

It's dangerous! You leave yourself open to being wrong ... being labelled a cockeyed optimist ... the rose coloured glasses type.