How do you overcome negative thoughts?
Someone recently asked me this question, wanting to know my answer especially in relation to my journey with food and weight. Here are some of my specific thoughts and how I got past them.
I’m so fat and ugly.
This thought accompanied me almost constantly in my younger years, from getting dressed in the morning to seeing media images to comparing myself to every other woman I saw. I started moving past it when I questioned the association of “fat” and “ugly”. Some cultures venerate heavy women, after all, as do some individuals, even in our thin-obsessed culture. Who defined beauty, after all, especially when I could look at other overweight women and recognize them as pretty? I might be fat, but that didn’t mean I had to be ashamed of myself. I realized I had to stop worrying about how others saw me and focus on how I saw myself, including appreciating what I liked.
I weigh too much to do be able to do anything very physical.
I couldn’t ignore this, when going up a flight of stairs winded me, or even sometimes walking down the street. Eventually, though, I stopped being angry at myself and began to accept that my body might not be as capable as other people. It didn’t mean I had to stay that way, but I could set modest, realistic goals for increasing my ability, and take pleasure in achieving them, rather than force myself to do too much, too fast, and get discouraged. Even those small changes made me feel better about my body, allowing me to accept it even more.
I can’t control myself around food.
I believed this myth for a long time, even though it was both clearly false and the wrong way to think about it. When around other people, after all, I had no problem keeping myself from eating certain foods or overeating; only in secret did I go “out of control”. I also began realizing that it wasn’t about the food. It’s not like the candy or cookies or ice cream forced me to eat them. Rather, I allowed myself to feel that I had no choice in what I ate. Once I recognized that, I began to see I did have a choice, whether or not I was alone, and I could choose not to feel powerless in the face of certain foods. Instead, I could focus on what and how I wanted to eat.
I’m going to die young like my mother.
This is related to weight and food for me, since it was my mother’s death at a young age that made me reevaluate how I thought about myself, how I wanted to live my life. And this belief in an early death was a tough one to get past. It helped when I realized I wasn’t alone; in fact this fear is fairly common, especially for women who lose their mothers young. After enough time, I could acknowledge the root of my belief, as well as face the reality that any of us could die young, no matter what happened with our parents. My mom’s mother, for instance, just turned 90, but my mom only got to 48. I now believe that I simply don’t know how much time I have, so my best option is to make the most of it.
Looking back, I know that although my approaches to these various thoughts were different, some common themes come through: accepting myself and my feelings, focusing more on the positive, making different choices, believing in myself, and ultimately deciding that I don’t want to live in a negative space. I don’t, after all, know how long I have, and I’d rather not spend my limited time feeling awful about myself and everything I imagine is wrong with me. Instead I choose to pay attention to what is good and beautiful, and what I might yet become.