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As I settled into my bleacher seat yesterday, about to watch my younger son’s weekly basketball class, I overheard a woman next to me yell “get your ass out on that court now!” to her 7 or 8 year-old son. The first thought that came to my mind was “did I really just hear her say that?” She continued to rant, and even made fun of her son for complaining he was so tired. A few minutes later, as the child stood alone on the sidelines while class began, I overheard his mom say “he doesn’t look so fat from this far away” to another parent. I’m not sure how this mom failed to see the smoke that was coming out of my ears; I needed every ounce I could muster to not overstep the boundary we parents try not to cross with one another and give her a hefty piece of my mind.
During this whole surreal episode, I couldn’t help but think of how this child must have felt. Being made fun of and spoken to in such a negative, disrespectful way by his own mother had to have been mortifying–or perhaps, even more sadly, he’s gotten used to it by now. Maybe I’m naive, but in my world it’s not ok for a mother to talk to her son this way (nor is it right, in my opinion, for anyone to talk to anyone else like that, period).
Putting my dietitian hat on, this experience made me think about how so many of us belittle or berate ourselves because of our appearance or body weight in the comfort of our own minds or even out loud when talking with friends, spouses, parents, or colleagues. Of course no one is perfect, and everyone has insecurities–if we didn’t, we wouldn’t be human. But if it’s not ok to be so rude and disrespectful to others, why should we be allowed to treat ourselves this way day in and day out? Negativity breeds negativity, and feeling badly about yourself can make you settle into a less than healthful lifestyle in which you’re just going through the motions (this may include relying on comfort foods and/or alcohol to numb negative feelings or make yourself feel better, at least for a little while!).
Although from time to time I catch myself thinking or saying something like “my legs are big,” I can honestly say that I have come to a place where I accept and am even happy about my body and my weight. This positive mindset and self-acceptance didn’t happen not overnight–it was a long time in the making since my overweight teen and early adult years. Studying nutrition and finding physical activities that I enjoy and that challenge me (like running, skating, tap dancing, and weight training) definitely helped me in my quest to look and feel better. Falling in love with my husband of almost 17 years also helped: he loved me for who I was, not how much I weighed (I was about 25 pounds heavier when we met). With every passing year I feel a little more at peace with my body and the shape I was given. To celebrate that, and reinforce those good feelings, I take time each and every day to take care of myself, be a role model to my children and family, and share all I’ve learned and am still learning about what it means to live a healthy and happy life with consumers.
I wish I could tell you there was a secret formula for transforming negative, sabotaging thoughts into positive, constructive ones and living a more healthful and happy life. But identifying how you feel and making a conscious decision to one up those feelings with other, more positive ones can be one tool to help you steer your own course on the road to a better, more proactive, more productive life. So my advice is to spend more time and energy each and every day focusing on and identifying the things that you like (or even love) about yourself and your body, and less time and energy on what you don’t. On a piece of paper with two columns, write down every negative thought or feeling you have about your body when it pops into your head or comes out of your mouth in one column; for each negative thought, come up with at least two positive thoughts and record those in the other column. In time, the list of things you like or love about yourself should be long; refer to this list often as a reminder of all the wonderful things that makes you you.
No one–I repeat no one–likes to be judged, looked at, or scrutinized (The Situation, Snookie, and The Kardashians are some exceptions!). If you become more positive about yourself, an added bonus is that you’ll probably become less judgmental and more of a well wisher to others as well (if you’re not already, you’ll become someone most people love to be around–and not because you’re skinny or have a six pack, but because of who you are!). Just like negativity breeds negativity, being more positive and celebrating what you love about yourself and others makes you much more likely to do the things you know you should–make more healthful food choices most of the time, and be more physically active–to optimize your health and live the best life you can.
Oprah, I’m sure you would agree. So have you started your list yet?