Qs4V #1: Vanessa Helps People Stop Treating Themselves Like Shitheads!
Welcome to the first instalment of #Qs4V, a virtual question and answer jam session that I like to call a ‘non-advice advice column’ ;)
People write in with questions about how to stop being shitheads to themselves and I write up an answer that will get them moving in the direction of self-love.
Here’s the question:
I’m 7 months postpartum and sometimes I look in the mirror and think, “I look okay”, then I see a photo or video of myself and feel crappy and huge. It feels overwhelming to feel like I have a long way to go to lose the weight.
I’m already eating healthy and exercising, and being mindful of how I talk to myself.
What I’d really like to happen is to be back to my size 4 self, and feeling strong and being happy in my body. If I were able to achieve this goal, I would love myself completely.
Thanks for your question, friend! You are definitely going through some real shit right now, and I’m stoked to help you work through it. Many people struggle with postpartum body image issues.
And, while not all of us will experience postpartum body, many of us will experience a body that’s changed very rapidly, perhaps not in a way that we feel good about, and possibly in a way that’s not totally within our control. For example, a body which has been recently diagnosed with a chronic illness or is going through cancer treatment or healing from an injury. So there’s lots of good shit in here for many body having folks!
Your experience of being in your body, and your perception of your body in images (mirrors, photos, videos, etc) is very subjective, and fluid. You know this because you described it so well in your question. Just when we think we are ‘doing body positivity’ and feeling like, “I look okay” or “I’m smokin’ hot” or anything in between that’s good and wholesome, some asshole posts an unflattering pic on the interweb and down we go! And we can get up again, but it’s not a super fun ride to be on, as far as self esteem goes.
I’d like to start with an observation: you talk about what it’s like to see you body in the mirror, in photographs and in video. There’s nothing wrong with looking, we need that to see if we have kale in our teeth, but we live *inside* our bodies. So… How do you feel in your body right now? How did you feel when you were at your prenatal shape? Identifying this gap is a really important first step.
If it’s difficult to articulate these feelings, you’re definitely not alone. We are crazy visual which means that sometimes we forget to stop looking and start tuning in to what we are feeling. Even when we do tune into our sensations, it can be hard to put the right words to them. If you aren’t sure how to get in touch with what it feels like to be in your body, there’s lots of good shit that helps with that (let me know if you need more direction on this point). This big ol’ list of sensation words is a good place to start.
The next order of business is: How do you want to feel in your body, and how specific can you get about that? You said “strong” and “happy”, but can you go deeper? What does feeling strong really feel like in your body? Radiating? Expansive? Solid? What about happy? What does that feel like in your body? Light? Fluttery? Warm?
Then: What do you need to do to feel those sensations in your body between here and there? When you discover ways to allow yourself to steep in those good feelings between here and there, you’ll be happier and more energized and motivated to work towards this, and other goals.
I love that you’re being mindful about how you are talking to yourself, that is key! It can also be really useful to dive into your attitudes around food and nutrition and be mindful of that self-talk as well.
Did you know that Cognitive Dietary Restraint (CDR) can have a hugely negative effect on your metabolism and body, even more so than what you are actually eating? CDR is fancy science talk for “the belief that the path to weight loss / avoiding weight gain is to work hard at limiting and monitoring food intake.” It’s often accompanied by beliefs around certain foods being ‘good’ and ‘bad’, and making deals with yourself around food (i.e. “If I have these cupcakes for dinner, then I’ll only eat salad tomorrow” or “I can have this sandwich because I did an extra long workout today”).
This is the mind-blowing part: Even if a person didn’t actually limit or monitor their food intake (i.e. they were just doing ‘whatever’) but they still held strongly onto the belief that restraint was the best (or only) way to achieve their ideal body shape, the negative effects remain.
Maybe this doesn’t apply to you, but I think it’s safe to say that as women, we can all easily think of someone in our lives who has this attitude, which is why I think learning about and understanding CDR is important. (Sorry for partially hijacking your question answer for this PDA but I feel very strongly about this!).
If it does apply to you, the ‘way out’ is this:
Consciously adjust your attitude with affirmations or reminders about not needing to limit yourself, that weight loss can be achieved in a number of healthy ways, that this is about feeling good and being happy. Lather, rinse, and repeat.
Look at food intake in terms of nutrient balance, energy management, and, importantly, enjoying food that tastes good and that you actually like to eat.
Trust yourself to make the right decisions for your body (i.e. not eating too much, or too little) and look into intuitive eating principles to help with developing that trust.
Many of us resist letting ourselves be nicer and gentler when it comes to things like our food intake, because we are afraid all hell will break loose if we don’t keep ourselves focused on self-improvement. I love self-improvement, and if you need proof of that, I basically made it my job to facilitate self-improvement for people.
But the best way to self-improvement is down the self-compassion road. Being shitheads to ourselves in the name of self-improvement is as counter productive as it is unkind. How do we find a way to be self-compassionate without losing our motivation to become better versions of ourselves?
You said “If I were able to achieve this goal, I would love myself completely.” Loving yourself completely is so important, perhaps it ought not to be attached to anyone outcome?
As you continue to work on the self-talk piece, think of how you can accept and love yourself completely now, before you achieve this body goal. When we get caught up in “if / then” thinking, we teach ourselves that we aren’t whole and complete unless we do / have / are X, Y or Z. This is dangerous because it can get you stuck in a loop of never feeling happy.
When you think back to being your previous size 4 self, can you honestly say that you completely loved yourself, and hardly ever had moments of thinking you look weird or gross in a photo, or wondering if these pants make your butt look good? If so, then great, you do you, girl! But if you realize that maybe there was always a bit of you that was processing some body image shit (now more prominent due to the post partum situation), then you know that the mindset piece is actually way more important than the specific shape and size of your body.
Either way, the million dollar question is: How can you love yourself completely now, as you continue to work in improving and evolving? And the million dollar answer is: It’s a unique process for everyone, starting with separting the outcome goal from your capacity to love yourself as the already complete and whole human being that you are.
I hope this helps guide you towards the answers you seek, my friend. Please feel free to DM me with your answers to any or all of the self-reflection questions I’ve bolded, or if you want more clarification on anything I’ve discussed here. Thank so you much for being brave and sharing your question :)
If you KNOW you’re being a s**thead to yourself, and you’re ready to stop, send in your Qs!
Here are some details about the process:
If your question is selected, Vanessa will lightly edit and summarize it for easy reading... not saying you ramble on, but most humans do so.... editing FTW)
You'll be emailed with the full version of the response (what will be posted online will be a bit shorter and sweeter, but you'll get some bonus stuff as a reward for putting yourself out there!)
You'll go forth and prosper with new ways to think about this s**t, how to approach making this change, and some concrete steps that will help you actually get s**t done. AND you can bask in the glow of knowing that in sharing something you've also helped other people who were probably thinking about or going through the same s**t #community!
Vanessa will email you to follow up and see how you're doing a couple weeks after you receive your reply
Vanessa can help you with the following s**tstorms:
Saying s**tty things to yourself all the live long day
Difficulty in letting s**t go
Handling s**tty situations with grace, kick assery and love for yourself
Being less s**tty to your body and doing self-care and s**t
Following through with s**t you want to do
Getting unstuck with s**t
Having difficult conversations about s**tty things or with s**tty people (or both…)
Getting the s**t you want out of life
Planning future s**t
Finding new friends or partners to do s**t with
Managing life s**t
Being more productive or organized with s**t
Doing important s**t even though you’re scared s**tless
Being more mindful about s**t
Moving on from s**tty setbacks or failing at s**t
… or any other s**t you want a fresh perspective on!