Welcome to Talk Rx with Doctor Neha. I want to address a question that I got from Carol in Virginia. She wrote, “Doctor Neha, I’ve been under so much stress this year, and I’ve gained more than ten pounds. I’ve had a move. I’ve changed jobs, and I broke up with my relationship. Now I’m having trouble getting all these negative thoughts out of my head. I’ve always been hard on myself, but not like this. How do I change these thoughts?”
Carol, you are brave. Those are a lot of changes to be taking on in one year. It’s sounds like you’ve put your body, your mind and your heart through a lot. Have some grace for yourself. Change is not easy, and it requires us to start coming up with new coping mechanisms, new strategies. So in all of this pain and change and struggle, your body image is really what you’re talking about. Gaining weight, not feeling good about yourself, and then noticing that you’re having all these negative thoughts.
First, I want you to know that too much of anything becomes a weakness, or another way to put it is that a weakness is just a strength overused. For example, is it important that you are able to critique yourself and keep yourself on track? Absolutely, but when it turns into you berating yourself and not being nice to yourself, and not giving yourself grace, then that self-critique becomes a weakness.
I want to share with you about when I went through something like this. I had gained some weight as I wrote my book Talk Rx. I was always drinking chai, which has milk and sugar, to soothe myself as I wrote the book. I gained a bunch of weight, and then I started beating myself up.
The truth is, you’ve gone through a lot, so start by writing down all the things you’ve accomplished this year. How have you grown? Have you changed? For me, I had accomplished a three-year endeavor—writing a book. So first, start by being proud of what you’ve accomplished or what you’ve survived and endured this year.
Second, it’s important to change the thoughts in your head. What I started saying to myself was, “Thank you, body. Thank you, body, for expanding so you could absorb the stress that I couldn’t. As soon as I can, I’ll take over again.” I cannot tell you how much relief those few sentences of grace gave me. It gave me the sense that the state I was in was not permanent, and I would be able to change it when I was ready. Think about this: Wow, I have this partner in my body. My body does take on the stress. When I’m on overflow, I don’t just burst. I don’t lose it. My body just expands, absorbs the stress, and then, as soon as I can be the one back in charge, I can change it. That’s empowering.
The next step is to become aware of what your numbing strategies are. When you experience stress, you need to know physically how that shows up in your body. For me, it’s throat constriction, stomach churning, and muscle tightness in my right shoulder. When that happens, I usually reach for something: food, a cup of chai, ice cream or cheese. So identify what you reach for to soothe yourself. Sometimes it’s alcohol. Sometimes it’s drugs. Sometimes it’s medication. There are a variety of ways that we soothe ourselves. Get clear on what that is.
Then do this exercise: Think of a comfort food. Go ahead and buy it. (What exercise allows you to eat your comfort food? That’s pretty cool!) As you’re putting that comfort food in your mouth, I want you to write down what emotions you’re experiencing. For me, it’s peace, comfort and joy.
Now it’s time to get curious and ask yourself, “Where in my life do I not feel peaceful, not feel comfortable, and not feel joy?” The answers to those questions are at the heart of what you need to work on not to need the strategy of comfort food.
A book I highly recommend is Geneen Roth, Women, Food and God. It’s not really just for women, and it’s not about God. It’s about our human relationship to food. She’s one of the people whom I look to for great exercises and more resources. Also pick up a copy of Talk Rx if you’re having stress around communication, conflict, or not being able to voice your opinion.
I’d love to hear how that experiment goes for you. Leave a comment on the blog, Facebook or Twitter at #AskDoctorNeha. It warms my heart to hear about your progress and questions!
- Notice how your body is communicating with you. What physical signals tell you you’re stressed or upset? (headache, heart racing, stomach turning, etc..)
- Honor what you have gone through. Give yourself some grace for doing the best you could with what you knew at the time. Instead of beating yourself up, turn it around and thank your body.
- Identify the numbing or coping strategies that allowed you to endure this difficult or challenging time. Identify three emotions that your strategy gives you (e.g., peace, joy, comfort, ease, love).
- Ask yourself, “Where in my life do I not feel [fill in the emotions]?”
- Get curious about those areas and what you can do to change them (instead of running from or numbing them).
To graceful changes,