Dieting was basically my way of wanting to change the way my body looked in order to feel good about myself. I believe that fact is true for most people who diet. I thought that true happiness, confidence in myself and being able to attract a man was all to do with looking good. Please note that I said ‘looking good’. I thought if I looked good, everything in my life would change, would be perfect. But I had it all wrong. It had nothing whatsoever to do with the way I looked and everything to do with the way I thought and felt.
This is what self esteem is all about – how you think and feel about yourself. We all know of people who are plump – even some who may be verging on the obese – who ooze self confidence and self esteem from every pore. They think they’re fantastic – and so they are. Their feelings are always positive and so they are upbeat, and life always seems to go their way. They attract good life events, so they get the job they wanted; they attract the man or woman they fancy (mostly because they have the confidence to actually go and talk to them) and life is generally good. Being fat doesn’t bother them at all, so why do a lot of people think they need to diet to feel better about themselves?
What most people who have eating disorders need to do is to build their self confidence and self esteem by changing the way they see their body and how they think about themselves.
Changing the way I viewed my body was difficult. Like many people with body image issues, the eating problems may have appeared suddenly with the onset of puberty, but the way I’d viewed myself throughout my childhood had always been negative. I was the skinny one with the freckles and pink round national health glasses. I remember to this day a teacher sniggering at the way I laughed, the way I showed all my teeth – I got the impression that she thought it was disgusting – and since that day I have been conscious of my mouth and smile – even though lots of people compliment me about my lovely warm sunny smile! So the way I negatively viewed my body had started a long time before I developed eating problems.
Some parents don’t really appreciate that children understand perfectly what is being said about them and how they are being judged, from as young as five years old. I think I was quite a sensitive child. I soaked up all the judgements and negativity that surrounded me. Children can be very cruel to each other, but parents also may say things they believe their children are too young to understand. Every time somebody criticised me I took it so very very personally. I remember my grandfather laughing at my latest ‘pudding-basin’ haircut and I cried and cried. I remembered all the negative things said to me and none of the good. I’m writing this and I can’t remember a single compliment that had been made to me when I was young. I’m sure there must have been some, but I can only remember the bad – that was how low my self esteem was.
So – I had a lot of work to do on developing a good body image. I started by trying to improve my self esteem and self confidence. As always I turned to books in my quest to change myself or learn something new. I read and read what are now referred to as ‘self- help’ books. I learned that how I viewed myself was a mirror to how other people viewed me. So if I thought I was a worthless person, how could other people think of me in any other way? I therefore took to ‘affirmations’ in a big big way! I would repeat to myself first thing in the morning, during the day and last thing at night affirmations such as:
- “I love and accept myself unconditionally.”
- “I am a unique and special person and worthy of respect from others.”
- “I accept others as they are and they in turn accept me as I am.”
- “It matters little what others say. What matters is how I react and what I believe.”
When I said these affirmations first thing in the morning and last thing at night, I truly believed them. (And by the way, you have to speak them out loud in front of a mirror so that it looks as though you are telling the person – who happens to be you – something about themselves.) I experienced a little bit more difficulty when I said them during the day because of course things happen: somebody might ignore me and I might think that they didn’t like me – or even worse, that they hated me. In those days when somebody ignored me I didn’t think, “Sarah looks glum and preoccupied, she must be having a bad day I wonder if she’s OK.” Oh no, my first thought was “Sarah hates me!”
But I kept going with the affirmations and I began feeling better about myself and my confidence increased.
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