FINDING YOUR SELF WORTH
You have value. You were perfect from the moment you were born, but as you grew up, you encountered something — maybe a movie, a magazine, or a mentor — that convinced you that you needed to be something you weren’t: you needed to be perfect.
Perfectly thin, perfectly fit, perfectly happy, they all became part of the same perfect picture you were trying to paint yourself into, but it didn’t work. You found that — no matter how much you tried — you couldn’t be that person, no one could. And the harder you tried, the worse you felt about yourself.
This experience is all too common today, especially among women. The feelings of low self-worth that modern life instills in us from childhood can affect our life negatively in a number of ways. They take a toll on our relationships, our mental health, and manifest as extreme dieting or exercise behavior.
As a therapist and personal growth specialist, I have dedicated my career to helping people stop dieting and fall in love with their bodies again. And I have found that the most important thing a person can do to start their journey towards body positivity mindset is to discover their own self worth.
So today, let’s talk about self worth, what it is, how to find it, and what might be standing in your way. Specifically, we’re going to talk about self worth in relation to our bodies. Hopefully, by the end of this article, you should have a good grasp of where feelings of low self worth come from, how they manifest in our day-to-day lives, and how to change those feelings — your life — for the better and achieve a body positivity mindset.
So, where does low self worth come from? For many of us, it started when we were children. Even if no one ever said it to you out loud, at an early age, most of us internalize that our self worth is wrapped up in how we look. Whether it’s tv, social media, or even our families and friends, the message “thin and pretty is valuable” is everywhere.
So it’s no wonder so many people spend incredible amounts of time and energy trying to achieve that image of perfection they see every day. And while there’s nothing wrong with wanting to look attractive and maintain a healthy weight, when you spend too much time chasing perfection, it can lead to some extremely unhealthy behaviors. It can eat up so much of your time and brain space that you don’t have any energy left to pursue the things that really matter to you.
That’s where body positivity comes in, because when you appreciate and love your body the way it is, you don’t have to spend excessive amounts of energy trying to change it. Think about all the things you could get done if your thoughts about food, weight, and appearance only took up a small part of your day, what could you do? How would you feel? That’s what body positivity can help you discover.
This article won’t be able to answer all of your questions, but it will give you the information you need to start your journey towards a happier, healthier you, so without further ado, here are some things you can do to escape the diet mindset, and start moving towards body positivity.
Shifting Your Mindset from Dieting to Body Positivity
To achieve body positivity, we’re going to have to undo some unhealthy thinking patterns, beginning with the dieting mindset.
The dieting mindset is unhealthy. A chronic dieter lives in a world of restriction, deprivation, and all-or-nothing thinking. And while it might feel helpful at first, science shows that dieting almost always backfires in the end.
Here’s why the dieting mindset can damage your sense of self worth: when you’re on a diet, you start to categorize food as good and bad, and tie the goodness and badness into your own opinion of yourself. So, if you eat a salad, you’re “good,” but if you eat a chocolate bar, you’re “bad.”
Unfortunately, putting yourself in this good/bad paradigm is bound to backfire eventually, because when you restrict yourself, the thing you’re restricting becomes the only thing you really want.
My former trainer summed it up nicely in a meeting with some other therapists, physicians, and dietitians.
“Only a dieter will eat an entire Hershey’s bar,” she said. “A dieter will eat an entire bar of chocolate, because they will not allow themselves to eat more tomorrow.
Food for a dieter is associated with goodness or badness and a chocolate bar, in this case, is bad. So in the dieter’s mind – which is to say a deprivation mindset — they are thinking ‘well, I will never allow myself to have this again, so I better eat it all now so I can start fresh tomorrow.’
A non-dieter knows that they can have a little now, and there will be more tomorrow.”
That was when I shifted my paradigm to a Health At Every SizeTM approach.
After working with hundreds of women, I can confidently say that the dieting mindset is both common and harmful. Someone who has an intuitive, healthy relationship with food knows that they can have some chocolate now, and that it will still be there tomorrow, if they want it, or if they don’t want it, whatever. However, those who are in the dieting mindset or all in or all out – are shifting from one extreme to the next (often known as yo-yo dieting).
3 Signs That You May Have a Dieting Mentality
#1 Depriving yourself and seeing it as a good thing.
Self-deprivation is the first and most important sign of a dieting mentality. People on diets deprive themselves and see that deprivation as a good thing, as willpower, and they see it as necessary.
But, unfortunately, the body can’t sustain a prolonged period of deprivation, and eventually it will start sending signals that it needs more food.
This is where things start to get a little scary for the dieter, because the more they try to restrict, the more all-consuming their thoughts about food become.
They’re caught in a battle with their body, and their self worth — which is wrapped up in how they look instead of how they feel — is on the line.
So the more battles a dieter wins, the more they think about food, and the more time and energy it takes to maintain their diets. Eventually, they will eat something they don’t intend to, and usually turn to exercise to “burn off” the bad calories. This is the second sign of a diet mentality.
#2 Exercising to burn calories.
At some point, most dieters will eat something that they decided was “bad.” Their body will override their willpower and they’ll have, say, a chocolate bar. Because they’ve decided that this is a bad thing to do, they’ll turn to something “good” to counteract it: cue compulsive exercise.
To clarify, I’m not saying exercise is a bad thing. Taking care of your body and moving are one of the best things we can do for ourselves, but it’s different when you have a diet mentality.
This exercise doesn’t come from a place of self-love, but one of punishment and low-self worth. And yes, while it might feel good in the moment, redemptive, even, but under the surface lurks a voice saying, “You have to do this if you want to be thin, beautiful, successful, and valuable. ”
#3 Wishing you had a different body.
Wishing you had a different body is the third sign of a diet mentality. Maybe it’s a flatter stomach, or a smaller chest, or a different body altogether — wanting to change a part of yourself because you’ve been told it isn’t perfect is a sure sign of low self worth.
And yes, at one time or another we all have done this, but that doesn’t make it normal, it just makes it even sadder that body hatred is as pervasive as it is.
The Origin of Low Self-Esteem
We aren’t born hating our bodies. We are born loving ourselves and wanting to be loved by others. Low self-esteem enters the equation when we are told we aren’t good enough. Whether it’s by society, a family member, or something else, from a very young age we are told we are only intrinsically valuable if we’re extrinsically appealing.
So, for women, one of the ways we try to make ourselves good enough is through controlling the way our bodies look. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be perfect and live up to some unrealistic, idealistic version of ourselves that we’ve created in our minds — based either on what we have been fed by the media, society, or our relationships — instead of truly getting to know the beautiful, unique, and fully lovable people that we already are. We spend our lives searching for something that we can only give ourselves: a sense of self worth.
Creating and Practicing a Body Positivity Mindset
If you identified with anything that I wrote in this article, then you’re not alone. Most women have, at one time or another, struggled with feelings of low self-worth, and many have fallen into the diet mentality. It’s so ingrained in our culture that some people may not even notice that they have it, or resist the idea when you bring it up to them. But it’s not pervasive because it’s helpful, it’s pervasive because society is very invested maintinating your low sense of self worth. We can break out of it together, but it will take some work.
The first thing you can do is educate yourself, and the first thing you need to know, and truly internalize, is that diets don’t work. Studies show that almost everyone who loses weight on a diet will gain it back after two years. And it’s not because consuming a few calories doesn’t make you thinner: it technically does. Diets don’t work because they are not sustainable. It is simply impossible to keep up with the level of time and energy it takes to maintain a diet.
Not only are diets ineffective, they are downright harmful. Diets can result in weight-cycling, which has been linked to significant health problems that some believe to be more serious than health problems linked to being overweight.
Not to mention the mental harm that a diet can cause. Dieting is one’s own personal cycle of abuse: set unrealistic goals, fail at attaining goals, feel even worse.
4 Ways to Begin Your Body Positivity Mindset Journey
#1 Be Honest with Yourself.
A dieting mentality can be hard to spot, because the diet industry has changed over the years. Gone are the days of Atkins, Weight Watchers, and aerobics (but can we keep the leg warmers?!).
Dieting isn’t even a cool word anymore. But we still have hidden ways of keeping ourselves in the dieting mentality. For instance, while some people have perfectly good medical and ethical reasons to be vegan, vegetarian, gluten free, sugar free, etc., but for some, dietary restrictions are just a socially acceptable way to keep themselves thin.
An obsession with clean eating might also indicate that you have a diet mentality. In fact, while it hasn’t been recognized by the medical community, some people are classifying this new overly health-conscious way of eating as an eating disorder called orthorexia.
But this isn’t to say that because you eat healthy, or avoid sugar, or take pride in your body that you have a diet mentality. All of these things could be perfectly healthy things for you to do.
The real, surefire way to tell if you have a diet mentality is to honestly appraise how much of your life is dedicated to your food intake and weight. If you don’t think about it much, and you feel good about yourself, then you’re probably alright. But if thoughts about food and weight take up most of your waking hours, and you feel a deep need to change the way you look attached to a sense of low self-worth, then you might have a problem.
#2 Eat Intuitively and Relearn Trust.
Step two in your journey towards body positivity is relearning how to eat intuitively, and to trust your body again. This is important — and harder than it sounds — because if you’ve been on a diet for a while, you’re used to overriding your body’s natural hunger cues. But you’ll never reach a state of body positivity if you don’t trust that your body knows what’s best for it, and provide it with what it needs.
The bright side is that you have plenty of practice eating intuitively: in fact, you’ve been doing it since you were born. Think about a baby boy with a bowl of food in front of him, that baby knows exactly what and how much to eat, because he is listening to his body’s cues and following them.
Over time, we can lose touch with these intuitive eating behaviors, but it’s not too late to start listening to our bodies again – I see people do it all of the time.
After all, the signals are still there, you just have to learn to listen to them.
Have you ever had a week where you were really busy and ate a bunch of junk food and then you craved veggies one night? That’s your body craving the things it needs. You can actually relearn to trust your instincts around food.
Some helpful tools used in the Health At Every Size Approach can help you gain back your trust in your body.
[For more information about Intuitive Eating,check out this article: From Emotional Eating to Intuitive Eating]
#3 Practice Joyful Movement.
Once you’ve addressed your relationship with food, it’s time to change the way you think about exercise. When you’re in a diet mentality, exercise is all about punishment, but in a body positivity mindset, exercise becomes its own reward. How do you change these thought patterns? It’s simple, just ask yourself, “What feels good?”
Maybe it’s stretching after a long day in front of your computer. Maybe it’s singing in a choir or walking your dog in the crisp fall air as the moon rises into the sky. Maybe it’s playing “Red Light, Green Light” with your children, or going on a ten-mile hike to see a beautiful mountain view.
Whatever it is, do it because it feels good.
#4 Practice Size-Acceptance.
Finally, to achieve a body positivity mindset, you have to accept yourself for who you are in this moment. Forget waiting for the day when you reach the weight you want, when you finally look the way you want, when you can wear the clothes you want, to be the confident and happy person you want to be.
You can be that person right now.
Trying to become someone else by dieting, depriving yourself, counting calories, won’t boost your self-esteem, because it comes from a place of low self-worth. If anything, it will make you feel worse. So stop chasing some imaginary future self and embrace who you are today.
I know you’re thinking, “Easier said than done!” I get that. I wish we could just snap our fingers and our fear of hunger, of fat, of gaining weight, would just disappear. But unfortunately, while you can start loving your body today, it will take some time for your diet mentality to fade away.
But while you’re establishing healthy thought patterns, just make an agreement with diet mentality feelings in a little box and bury it in the backyard (while you’re at it you can throw your scale in there too).
Don’t worry, it’s still there, you can always go dig it up, but those feelings just aren’t needed right now. You can still practice joyful movement, eating intuitively, and size acceptance while those thoughts slowly ebb away.
Road to Recovery: Making Power Moves for Your Self-Esteem
The road to recovery will look a little different for everyone, but the basic steps are the same.
Step 1: Stop playing the game.
The first step for every person looking to make power moves for their self-esteem is to decide that you’re not going to play along anymore. You have to make the decision to press on and work hard for YOU.
Healing journeys are rarely easy, but you can do it. You can begin to see positive changes in your mindset and health if you decide to make your health a priority.
Step 2: Find your support system.
Second, have a support system. As with any recovery program — having a support system can help you establish accountability, offer encouragement, and give you a place to turn to when things start to feel heavy.
Establishing a support system can look like starting a book club with some friends working towards the same goals, or even complete strangers who are also on the road to body positivity! “Health at Every Size” by Linda Bacon is a great book to get you started.
Step 3: Work with a body positivity coach.
Lastly, if a group setting isn’t your style, or you think you might benefit more from one-on-one work, find a licensed therapist or life coach who has experience working with programs such as Health At Every Size.
Now that you see where low self worth comes from, and the ways you can overcome it, I hope you’ll feel empowered to make positive life changes for yourself and others.
A final note: Although a body positivity mindset can be helpful for everyone, it can also be very important to distinguish between a diet mentality and an eating disorder, as these can often look similar in one’s day to day life.
Please keep in mind that if you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, it could be critical to get help and support from a doctor or therapist who has been trained to treat Eating Disorders.
If you’d like additional information on distinguishing between a diet mentality and Eating Disorder behaviors please visit https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/
Did this article resonate with you? Are you looking for more resources on healing and repairing your self-esteem? We recommend starting with the Signs of Low Self-Esteem Quiz for tailored resources and recommendations.
Meet Stephanie: a marriage and family therapist, individual therapist, and life coach with an active, engaged, and down-to-earth style who takes great interest in your overall well-being. She works with couples, families, and individuals to help them reach their full potential in life and their relationships.