How to talk to yourself about health

We’ve talked about discussing health, diet, and weight with children.  But how do you talk to yourself?

I know that many of my clients and patients say things to and about themselves that they would never say to anyone else. Why do you expect perfection in yourself and allow for mistakes and mishaps in others?

Positive self talk

There’s this idea of a self-fulfilling prophecy.  If you expect a bad outcome, you’ll get it, and vice versa.

Practice positive thinking throughout your day.  Instead of “XYZ is so hard,” think, “I’m smart enough to figure out XYZ.”

Instead of “I don’t know how to do that,” think, “I get to learn how to do that.”

I know it sounds cheesy, and if you’re used to thinking negative thoughts, it will take some practice.  But it’s amazing how much it can change your outlook and experiences in life.

Research on positive thinking shows us that a positive outlook, or optimism, leads to fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety, better stress and illness management, and even better physical health.

Body gratitude list

If you’re accustomed to thinking negatively about your body, this almost seems laughable. But we’re working on ourselves here, right?

Create a list of things about your body you are grateful for.

  • Did it grow and then nourish your child?
  • Can you use it to rough house with that child now that they’re older?
  • Does it feel good when you take the time to move it?
  • Do you love the color of your eyes or the freckles across your nose?
  • Do people tell you they love your smile?
  • Does it cook and then eat awesome-tasting food?

There’s so much more to your body than how it looks or how much space it takes up. Write down what about your body you are grateful for.  Keep it in a file on your phone, and refer to it when the negative thoughts get overwhelming.

Mindful eating – enjoy your food

Mindful eating has many facets to it – enough that I plan to do an entire post just on this topic.

However, for the purpose of this post, we’ll focus on the part where we get to enjoy our food.

You honor your body and yourself when you respond to hunger cues.  And fullness cues.  Nobody feels good when they’re overly hungry or when they are overfull. 

When you feel hungry, respond. Eat a filling meal (or snack).

Eat it slowly; shoveling food in your mouth as fast as you can get it there isn’t enjoying your food. Stop eating when you’re comfortable but fuller than neutral.

Similar concepts apply when you’re going for a splurge. Eat to satiety, enjoy the hell out of it, then stop eating it when it’s no longer satisfying.

As you practice mindful eating, you may come to the realization that certain foods are more filling and more satisfying than others. That you feel better after eating certain foods and terrible when other foods are eaten. Eventually, you probably won’t even want to eat those foods that make you feel bad.

Assess your posture

Your posture affects your mood!

Think about it. You slouch in your chair when you’re tired or stressed. Then your back hurts.  So now you’re pissy and in pain.  

Try to work on your posture. Again, this will take time and practice.  Start by setting an alarm every hour to check your posture. Or go one step further and get up, take a 2-3 minute movement break, get some water, then sit back down with good posture.

Slouching causes long-term muscle weakness and pain in your lower back.   It can lead to fatigue, poor motivation, increased stress, and lower mood.

So this is important!

Consider your food fuel

You should absolutely take the time to enjoy your food.

However, start to think about food as a fuel for your body instead of just a means to quickly tame the hunger beast. Think about how food can work for you. The carb provides energy, the protein can build your muscles, the fruits and vegetables fill you up and help reduce inflammation, and the fat can make your hair shiny and keep you full longer.

Consider ALL foods as different types of fuel that your body needs. Food should not be a punishment, and you should not punish yourself for eating it. 

Ate a cupcake at your co-worker’s birthday celebration.  So what?  You don’t owe yourself an extra hour on the treadmill. You owed yourself the time to celebrate your friend.

Likewise, that salad for dinner isn’t a punishment for skipping the gym.  It provides the fiber and other fuel that your body needs at that time.

Expect imperfection

No one is perfect, and you’ve probably accepted that about every single person around you.

So why haven’t you accepted this about yourself?

You went grocery shopping, but then you were too tired or ran out of time to cook. So you had to stop on the way home to feed everyone before they were hangry.  So what? Everyone’s done it.

You have mandatory overtime at work for the next couple of weeks, and now you don’t have time or energy to go on a walk every day. Take the break, give yourself time to relax, then get back to it as soon as you can.

You are not “bad” or “cheating” when these things happen.

While we know that eating healthy and moving our bodies is important and should be a focus and priority, we also know that sometimes the extra stress this can cause is more harmful than a one-off fast food meal or skipping a run.

Most importantly, if you wouldn’t say it to a stranger or a close friend, don’t say it to yourself!

For real, you’re a nice person. You would never tell your friend she’s too fat to order dessert or that she needs to starve herself with dry lettuce every meal for 2 weeks.

You would never bully them into a workout when they’re almost ready to pass out from fatigue.

So why the hell do you say this stuff to yourself?

How to talk to your kids about their weight

It’s natural for every parent to worry about their kid’s health. Are they eating enough veggies? Protein? Are they getting enough physical activity? Are they overweight?

When questions are raised based on concern with their health, these questions are okay. What makes them not okay is when your words start to make a child concerned about their weight/appearance and learn to think of their body in a negative way.

  • Don’t eat that; it’ll make you fat
  • You’ve been gaining weight lately; should you really be eating that?
  • I’m so fat
  • I’m so bad for eating this cake
  • I have to have a salad for dinner tonight to make up for my lunch.

Those are just a sampling of words that are harmful to say around children/teens.

Why should you watch what you say?

I get it. They’re your kids, and you should be able to say what you want. However, children really internalize what their parents say, even when we think they aren’t listening. Blatantly focusing on a child‘s size can lead to disordered eating patterns or even a full-blown eating disorder.

And eating disorders are the most fatal of all mental health disorders.

Teenagers tend to see themselves through the lens of a central focus. This can make them feel that everyone is staring at them, noticing what they do wrong, and if we focus on their weight, even critiquing and making fun of what they eat, these feelings intensify.

When a child or teen is prone to anxiety or has a family history of eating disorders, this makes them especially prone to a problem.

So how can you address their health and not say something harmful?

The simple answer is to leave their weight out of it.  Speak through the lens of overall health.  Will eating healthy foods help prevent the various health problems that plague your family?

Will enjoyable movement improve their athletic performance and reduce their anxiety?

Do you love to run and want a buddy?

Model the behavior you want to see in your child

You can’t expect your kid to chow down on some broccoli and salmon if you don’t do it yourself.

Rather than telling them to go on a walk, why don’t you go with them?

If they’re not too cool yet, set up a dance floor in the living room and rock out with them.

Let them see you snack on almonds, fruit, and veggies so they know this is normal.

Casually talk about how good you feel after you exercise.


Watch how you talk about weight

Avoid using words related to weight to describe other people, strangers or not.  Instead of the plump lady over there, she can be the lady with the pretty hair or the lady with the awesome purple purse.

Talk about how funny, smart, or sensitive their friends are.

If your kids see you looking in the mirror, avoid saying, “Ugh, I’m so fat!” Instead, say things like this dress makes me feel girly, or my smile looks great today.

Compliment their style, how they comforted their upset friend or sibling, or how hard they studied for a test. Do NOT compliment them on how that shirt looks a little looser, etc.

Focus on health when talking about food

We eat fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and lean meats because they are good for us, not because they make us fit in a certain pair of jeans.

Discuss how fiber can prevent heart disease, certain cancers, and diabetes. How fish is so good for our hearts and brains.

If they’re younger, focusing on colors can help. Red foods are good for our hearts, green foods make us strong, etc.

Seek out a qualified dietitian for help

If you suspect your child might be experiencing problems around food and appearance, a visit to their doctor and a dietitian is in order. They should both be consulted regarding red flags for an eating disorder and will have experience discussing these matters in a sensitive way. 

Don’t be surprised if the doc or dietitian recommends a therapist as well.

Final Thoughts

If you’re worried enough to read this blog post, you’re probably already doing a pretty good job!  

A few tweaks in the way we talk and interact with each other can make a world of difference in our kiddos!

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