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
. 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)
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
– 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?