13 Things You Should Never Say About Your Body, According to Therapists
It's time to kick that negative body image to the curb.
If you've ever felt bad about your body, you're far from alone. According to one 2016 survey from Yahoo Health, more than half of all women are either body ambivalent or body negative. And though other people can (and do) contribute to this mindset, often times we are just as much to blame when it comes to having negative body image.
"It is very important that we listen to how we talk to ourselves. What we say to ourselves is very powerful and can impact our confidence and sense of self-worth," says licensed mental health counselor Jaime Kulaga, PhD. "If you spend a bulk of [your] time saying body-shaming phrases, you can rewire your brain into thinking these things are true about yourself."
Are you ready to turn your negative body image around? We consulted therapists and other mental health experts to get the low-down on words and phrases you need to eliminate from your vocabulary for better self-esteem.
"I can't believe I ate that—I was so bad."
Many people with low self-esteem base their self-worth on what and how they eat. This leads to anger, frustration, and negative thinking every time a dessert or even moderately "unhealthy" food is consumed—and it can have some serious mental health consequences.
If you tend to categorize food as either good or bad, try to remind yourself that "what you eat has absolutely no bearing on your worth as a person," as Chicago-based therapist Laura Kelly suggests. "Food is delicious, and it's OK to give yourself permission to enjoy it without guilt. Instead of criticizing yourself and your choices, try thinking, 'I enjoyed some of my favorite foods.'"
"I just want to lose five more pounds."
When you focus on the scale instead of on how you feel, you "forget to honor and respect your body for how it helps you live a life you enjoy right now," says associate marriage and family therapist Summer Forlenza. If you want to set goals for yourself, she says you should "focus attention on health-promoting behaviors instead of weight loss" to "develop a much healthier mindset."
"I'm so fat!"
If you're using the F word to refer to your body in a negative way, it's time to eliminate it from your vocabulary. "Since 'fat' has such a negative connotation in our society, it now means things such as lazy, ugly, unintelligent, etc. So, if you're calling yourself 'fat' [in a negative way], you're also calling yourself these other negative things," explains clinical psychologist Kimberly Daniels, PsyD. "This is extremely damaging to your self-esteem. It translates to, 'I'm not good enough. I need to be different than I am.'"
People with a negative body image often refer to themselves as "disgusting." The problem? "There is no way you will engage in positive self-care if you see yourself as 'disgusting,'" says Daniels. "I use the metaphor of an ugly plant: If someone gives you a plant and it's the ugliest thing you've ever seen, are you going to water it? Are you going to fertilize it? Of course not. It's going to sit in a corner and die. So if you're telling yourself you're disgusting, you're never going to truly take care of yourself."
"I'll be happy when…."
"Telling yourself things like 'I'll feel confident once by biceps are X inches' or 'I'll be happy going to the beach when I'm 7 pounds lighter' are not only untrue, but prevent you from enjoying your life as you are now and can lead to depression or obsession with body image," says Illinois-based licensed clinical psychologist Abigail S. Hardin. "People don't magically feel better once they reach a goal weight; instead, they just find something else about themselves to 'fix.'"
"I am ugly."
Whenever you feel the urge to call yourself ugly, tell yourself that you're beautiful instead. "If you focus on the negative, you will begin to believe it," explains life coach and addiction specialist Cali Estes, PhD. "Negative attracts negative." Focusing on the positive will take you out of this vicious cycle and put you on the path to a better body image.
"Once I get in shape, I'll feel more confident."
Being in shape and being confident aren't mutually exclusive, and telling yourself that they are can be detrimental to your mental health. "It is harmful to believe that you can only feel good about yourself if your body looks a certain way," notes Kelly. "A more helpful approach would be to work on accepting and loving your body as it is while incorporating movement (if you want to!) and eating a variety of nourishing foods."
"I really need to go on a diet."
Severely restrictive diets—that is to say, ones that eliminate food groups entirely and cut calories to the point of deprivation—don't work. According to licensed mental health professional Haley Neidich, what they do instead is "leave people with shame and guilt." If you want to overhaul your diet without going on one, she suggests intuitive eating, which "helps to improve body image and can eliminate the diet-binge cycle."
"I'm never going to lose weight."
There are ways to feel confident in your own skin while also working toward weight loss goals. And if you want to feel strong and sexy while working on your weight, you need to stop telling yourself that you'll never shed any pounds.
"When you tell yourself you are never going to lose weight, you might not try to your full potential," explains psychotherapist Christine Smith, MSW. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy—so instead of telling yourself that you can't lose weight, tell yourself that you can, and you will.
"It is my fault that I look like this."
Often times, people with a negative body image will blame themselves for how they look. And while many believe that this negative self-talk keeps them accountable in the kitchen and at the gym, Smith notes that "the opposite is seen in the research. Individuals who have much more self-blaming thoughts have a greater risk of mental health issues."
"I hate my [insert body part]."
When you focus on your flaws, it often feels like they're the only thing anyone can see when they look at you. However, people are seldom paying attention to your self-identified "problem" areas, and you shouldn't be, either. Every time you feel the urge to criticize a specific body part, Estes suggests talking about a different body part you love instead. Try to focus on the positive!
"My arms are way too flabby for tank tops."
The more you tell yourself that something is true, the more you actually believe it. So, if you repeat to yourself over and over that you can't wear something because a certain body part isn't good enough, eventually you're going to believe it with every fiber of your being.
"Your self-talk matters—it's the voice you hear the most every single day. What your mind believes, your heart and body align to make so," explains integrative nutrition health coach Amber Stevens. "Anything that you say that is negative toward your body or self is harmful."
"He/she is so much better-looking than I am."
"Comparing yourself to someone else is one of the biggest mistakes someone who is suffering from body image issues can make," explains life coach Jamie Bacharach. "Focus on yourself and your own body and find inner peace. Just because you think someone else looks better than you doesn't mean they are truly better off or happier."
Additional reporting by Sarah Crow.