How we talk to each other, and ourselves, matters.
A few days ago, I shared an article that talked about the findings of a study recently published in the journal Pediatric Obesity. The study found that children who reported being teased about their weight gained weight later in life. The more they were teased, the worse the weight gain.
This particular study was small, and it cannot prove cause and effect in its own right, but the relationship researchers found aligns with other lessons we have learned with how community, self-image, and the way we communicate can shape the choices we make about our health.
When we feel rejected or attacked, we feel stress and anxiety. Even if the stimulus for those feelings was about our weight, our response is often counterproductive. When we feel bad, we reach for our tried-and-true coping mechanisms. Big tubs of ice cream. Long sessions of television. Sleeping too much or sleeping too little.
And you can probably see how that loop can turn into a downward spiral. You may have even experienced the spiral yourself. You feel bad about yourself for being unhealthy, and then you do something that makes you feel better (temporarily), but that coping mechanism itself is unhealthy. So the problem gets a little worse. And that cycle repeats and repeats and repeats.
The challenge here can seem impossible to unravel when you have ridden this spiral for years or even decades.
It starts with taking back control of your inner dialogue.
You can’t always control how people will treat you or what happens around you–though you do have more control over that than you think. You can leave negative work environments. You can surround yourself with supportive people. You can recreate the bubble around you so that if you do feel negative emotions you have a pair of walking shoes within reach instead of a bag of potato chips.
Even when we don’t have control over what is happening around us, we can control what is happening inside of us. When we are faced with a situation where we start to experience negative feelings, we can slip into the automatic behaviors we use to cope, or we can start to change our stories and make a new kind of choice that takes us away from disease and toward optimal wellbeing.
For most of us, that means stepping out of the automatic loops and having a conversation with ourselves about what is happening in that moment.
If your boss just stopped at your desk to yell at you, you might want to reach for the candy bars in your desk drawer. If you recognize what you are about to do, you can step out of that moment and ask yourself the following questions:
- What am I feeling right now?
- Why am I feeling this way?
- What are my choices for addressing this feeling?
- Of those choices, which one will move me closer to my health goals?
We have found that when we teach people to have these conversations, their journeys change in radical ways. Where they used to just get lost in the momentum of negative situations, they can now think more deeply about what is happening and recognize that they have the power to choose a healthier path.
There is a lot more we could talk about when it comes to self-talk, but for now, start with using those four questions throughout your day. As soon as you feel a bad feeling creeping up, take a deep breath, and have a short discussion with yourself. You may be surprised by how much power you actually have within you.
And then talk to your health coach or read more of Dr. A’s Habits of Health to learn more.