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Beat or Treat Yourself

Although there’s truth in the adage, “You are what you eat,” there’s also a whole lot of evidence that you are what you tell yourself you are. Or rather what others insisted you were in childhood and what your self-talk confirms about you today. We become, then remain, whatever we believe ourselves to be. Think you’re lovable, then presto, you are. Think you’re not and, well, you know what kind of feelings and behaviors that leads to.

You’ve probably read enough of my blogs to know that how your parents and other caretakers treated you in childhood is a major factor in determining whether you feel lovable or not. Sure, genes play a role (although I’m not sure what role on the lovability issue), but what we’re told and how we’re treated literally changes our brains and drives thoughts and behaviors. The classic tale is the child who’s constantly berated for being “no good,” becoming so. You cannot grow up loving yourself when people treat you poorly by word or deed. Worse, you pick up this nasty habit and continue the hate fest.

For instance, what do you say to yourself after you make a mistake—forget an appointment, buy the “wrong” cereal for the kids, accuse your friend of something you later discover she didn’t do, binge eat, purge, over-exercise? Do you say, Well, I’m basically a good person and I’m entitled to not be perfect, or do you lament, Ah, ha, just as I suspected, I’m not a good person after all? You have the choice whenever you make a perceived error to do what I call beat yourself over the head with a frying pan or give yourself a there, there, pat on the back to offer self-understanding and reaffirm your self-worth. These small moments may seem trivial, but they go a long way toward determining how you feel about yourself and, therefore, how you behave.

Always, one of the first lessons I teach clients and students is compassion for self and the necessity for positive self-talk. So stop the beatings. Stop now. No more roughing yourself up, no more snide comments to yourself or to others about yourself, no more calling yourself stupid (banned in my therapy office), no more denouncing yourself for mistakes you’ve made. As the saying goes, if you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all. Except that when you’ve made a mistake, it’s important that you think something kind about yourself, even if it’s as neutral as, “I’m human” or “I’m doing the best I can.” I can almost guarantee that this small-but-not-easy change will help you transform your eating and go a long way toward developing a better relationship with food. Make your home, your office—in fact, wherever you are—a negative self-talk-free zone. And, while you’re at it, don’t let others bad mouth you either!