Right now, I’m imagining my significant other waking up saying he has a headache and feels bloated; telling me—and himself—that he looks fat.
What do I want my response to look like in this moment?
I certainly do not say “pshhhh” and brush him off.
I envision myself walking over to him, wrapping my arms around him, and saying “I’m sorry that you feel that way. Please let me know if there is something that I can do to help.”
While we may be able to envision ourselves helping out a friend or partner in this way, when we’ve woken up in the morning with a headache, feeling bloated, crying a little when we look at ourselves in the mirror, what do we do instead? We shower ourselves in negative self-talk, calling ourselves idiots for having those two drinks last night and for eating all of those cookies before going to bed.
And then what?
We go about the rest of the day feeling ashamed of our bodies and of ourselves as people, vowing to “do better.”
I have something to say about this: beginning or continuing our day from a foundation of self-hate makes us feel worse throughout the day, contributing to having a non-productive and unhappy experience throughout whatever tasks we need to accomplish. And it perpetuates the cycle of hating on our bodies and not treating them with respect, whether that’s eating foods that don’t serve us, exercising in ways that don’t feel good to us, or drinking at the end of the day because it was so hard to get through.
When we catch ourselves in negative self-talk and not feeling good in—or about—our bodies, there are ways to snap us back into reality; things we can do to get our feet back on solid ground, so that we can get on with our day.
1. Show ourselves some love.
Showing ourselves compassion, even in the hardest moments, not only builds us up to feel good in the moment we’re struggling; it also builds resilience and adaptability to show ourselves that kind of care in the moments when we really don’t want to, or don’t think that we deserve it.
Here’s a technique to show yourself some love when you’re struggling:
First, gently place your hands on your belly, or whatever area is causing you so much suffering. Then, take a breath, envisioning the healing energy you’re taking in going to that area of our body. Imagine the breath filled with acceptance of yourself and the feelings you may be experiencing.
Then ask yourself, “Am I feeling unworthy? Unloved? Sick? Embarrassed about eating too much last night?”
Acknowledge those feelings. Instead of running away from them—as we’re so used to doing—keep breathing into that space in increments of 30 seconds for about 90 seconds, the amount of time it takes for any emotions moving through our bodies to dissipate.
Next, let yourself know that you’re not alone. You’re human, and so many other humans out there know what it feels like to feel how you’re feeling right now.
Lastly, let yourself know that it’s okay to take the time that you need to feel better. Maybe it feels good to tell yourself it’s okay. Or maybe it feels better to let yourself know that what you’re going through is hard, and it’s okay to pause to let yourself feel those emotions.
We can we show ourselves acceptance of what is happening in the moment. We can also carry this compassion and love throughout our day.
When I was really struggling with binge eating and not feeling good in my body, and when I looked down at my thighs spreading out on the chair, instead of sneering at them in disgust, I would gently caress my thighs on the chair, rub them back in forth in a rhythmical pattern. If I was by myself, I would close my eyes and go through the practice mentioned above, sending warmth and love to my thighs through my hands, as I took a deep breath in through my nose. I’d visualize any dark thoughts I was having, leaving my body as I exhaled outward.
When we feel the belly bloat as we sit in our chair, or our waistbands tightening around our abdomens, could we close our eyes, breathe, and think of our bellies as something to cherish instead of hate?
Maybe say something like this?
“Yes, my stomach is uncomfortable right and I’m feeling very self-conscious. But my abdomen gives me the core strength to walk my dog and help my grandma walk across a slippery driveway without falling.”
We are able to try this for whichever area of our bodies is causing us any sort of displeasure. While it might feel odd at first, the more we practice it. The more we focus our thoughts on self-kindness, the more self-kindness we’ll show ourselves when we’re not feeling the most comfortable in our bodies.
2. Befriending some tea and your heating pad.
There are many reasons why drinking tea or hot water infused with honey and lemon might feel good to us in moments when our bodies feel more foe than friend.
I love the feeling of having a warm cup of tea in my hand while I watch TV, or read a book when winding down for the night, especially if I have had a stressful day or if my belly is not feeling good from something I’ve eaten.
Whether we have a bloated belly, or we’re not feeling so good after eating more than what our body may have been asking for, or, if we just need a little more relaxation in our lives, a warm beverage might just be the trick.
Warmth naturally soothes the gastrointestinal system, aiding in our digestion and therefore decreasing pressure or any discomfort of the abdomen. Whether it’s a release of gas or guiding our bodies to have its next bowel movement, any extra space that can be given to a distended belly can help release any mental or physical stress our bodies may be feeling.
I know that if I’m having trouble going to the bathroom or am feeling discomfort in my belly, a warm cup of tea or coffee helps to soothe my gut. At times, I also use a heating pad to help me feel better (sometimes it feels like my best friend!).
3. Inquire into how specific types of food make us feel.
Sometimes when I wake up feeling really physically ill, or recognize that I am a little more gassy after eating a certain meal or a particular snack during the day, I think about what I may have eaten that could have caused that discomfort. Maybe my body didn’t tolerate the amount of pasta I ate last night. Or maybe I ate too many raw veggies with my lunch, which doesn’t tend to agree with my body (cooked vegetables tend to work better for me).
This is not a time for us to be judgmental or to label what we ate as “good” or “bad.” This is a time to simply explore what foods truly feel good in our particular bodies, and what may not feel as good.
For instance, I know that I feel fine when I have three Oreos, but when I have five Oreos, that is when my stomach starts to feel queasy.
While I am personally super into keeping a food journal, one thing we can try out is to make a note using the Notes app on our phones—listing which foods or amounts of foods we ate, and how we felt after eating, so that we can see if any pattern reveals itself over time.
So often we make ourselves feel bad after eating certain foods. Are we making ourselves out to be a “good” or “bad” person when we eat three, versus the intended one slice of pizza? Or if we consumed a salad for lunch?
Something I’ve been able to recognize over the years that’s helped me is to know this: what and how much I eat does not define me as a person. Food has no moral value. I can be healthy and eat foods that feel good in my own individual body—whether that’s Oreos, roasted vegetables, soda, or a nourishing smoothie. What works for me, may be different from what works for someone else.
4. Move…or rest.
We should always honor what our bodies are asking of us in a particular moment. But it can be hard to listen to those cues if we binge ate a whole family-size bag of chips and want to lie on the couch forever, hoping to disappear.
In these moments, if we’re feeling bloated, or restless, or catching ourselves in a vicious cycle of, “I am such an idiot for eating so much” or “why am I so fat” or whatever the case may be, it’s time to take a step back.
First, we have to go back to step one: showing ourselves love and compassion.
Then, from that self-compassionate foundation, we can start to take some steps forward.
I’m not saying we should go for a hard-ass run or kill ourselves at the gym with a high intensity interval training workout, plus three hours of lifting weights. There’s no need for self-punishment.
What I’m talking about is going for a mindful walk. Putting on those comfy walking shoes and setting out with no expectations. Really feeling our feet touch the ground.
In the moments when I have really struggled with not feeling good in my body, I would go for a walk in a quiet neighborhood or in nature where I could be alone. I would put one hand on my stomach and the other on my heart while I walked. I would breathe into the spots where my hands were, letting any judgment about the areas of my body that I was feeling self-conscious about naturally pass through my mind; not giving emotion to those negative thoughts—so they could leave my mind without resistance.
I’ve even practiced getting on the floor and stretching out my tense muscles, following a digestion-guiding yoga sequence on YouTube to rid myself of any belly bloat or emotional turmoil about my body.
We have to do what is best for us as unique people with individualized needs. If I have the energy to go for a run or lift some weights, then I go for it. But I’m also not afraid to stop and walk or lift a little lighter if my body is asking me to pause and slow down.
In the past, I had to make a conscious effort to recognize if I was undergoing a harder workout from the mindset of “This will burn off all the calories I ate last night,” so that I could mindfully transition to having the mindset of “I am exercising right now to feel good and energized in my body.” It’s a transition that took time, but became easier with consistent awareness and nonjudgmental practice. On this note, if we find that we did overeat or binge on a specific night, it’s important to remember to release any form of self-judgment.
We must also remember that rest is a form of listening to our bodies too. Just as much as moving our bodies can make us feel good, and can be a form of self-care, resting when our bodies are feeling fatigued and overworked is equally—if not more—important to feeling good in and about our bodies. Today and every day.