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Three Tricks to Reducing Negative Self-Talk After Bariatric Surgery

woman looking at herself in the full length mirror while standing

Years, or even decades of excess weight, have likely made you question yourself, beat yourself up, and create a mental environment of negative self-worth. It sounds extreme when you read it on paper, but everyone does it to some degree or other, no matter how fit, intelligent, or beautiful they may be.

These years of beating yourself up and putting yourself down don’t just go away when you lose weight, even if your negative self-talk was very much weight related. Our minds are very flexible, and adaptability allows for significant changes that are needed to reverse some of these thoughts and actions. For example, think of a habit. Getting into a routine is often straightforward but surprisingly difficult to remove yourself from. As such, anyone who tells you that positive self-talk is all you need to get back on track doesn’t understand how the brain is wired for the challenges one faces after bariatric surgery.

Small Steps Toward Significant Changes

Consistency and honesty are the keys to changing your mind over the long term. The negative self-talk is often very sporadic, coming at times when you are stressed or angry. It’s also very extreme in that you’re usually not pointing out faults or concerns that you can quickly change but more significant or systemic issues that require time and patience to work on, making it even more dangerous. So, here are three ways to start changing that negative self-talk and bring yourself back to the point of honest conversation that acknowledges your flaws but doesn’t center your life around them.

Acknowledge the Success of Others and Ourselves

We tend to diminish or marginalize the achievements of others when we don’t feel great about ourselves; yes, some of the very fit people you see on the street are naturally predisposed to not gaining weight. Or they may have worked hard to maintain their body weight by avoiding certain foods and exercising appropriately. Either way, it’s OK to acknowledge that they look good. Giving someone else kudos for their appearance can often change the tide of negative self-talk. Even better, compliment them and see how they appreciate your acknowledgment.

Do Some Mirror Work

Bariatric surgery corner contributor and sex educator Liz Mallers follows a great technique put forth by Dr. Emily Nagoski. Stand in front of the mirror as unclothed as you feel comfortable and point out everything you like about your body. During your weight loss phase, you may not feel good about your stomach or the excess skin on your arms, but do you have great eyebrows? Or well-formed ears? Do you have nice knees? It sounds comical, but you are starting to recognize that not everything is terrible, and regardless of whether you believe it, you have many fantastic qualities. In time, the things you like about yourself will multiply.

Lastly, Communicate

When we don’t like our bodies, we tend to pull away from communication with our friends, spouses, or partners. It’s our defense and coping mechanism. Still, while you may feel more comfortable not discussing what you think about yourself, you’re hiding from the possibility of making a significant change in your life. Intuitively, you know what those around you think. This is especially true if they knew you before you gained the weight. There’s nothing to hide, and you don’t have to be the strongest person in the world. Having a frank conversation with those closest to you can give them some insight into your journey, motivate you to make the changes you want, and allow them to be a cheerleader and help in whatever you decide is the best way forward.

As you can see, all these tactics and techniques to overcome body dysmorphia are centered around being honest with yourself and others. It’s challenging to open up and admit that you are struggling but losing 50 or 100 pounds is also amazingly tough. Your mind and body work symbiotically.

No matter what route you choose for your weight loss goals, know that those around you are cheering you on and looking forward to your success. Take advantage of that by helping them understand what you’re going through and giving yourself the tools to succeed over the long term.

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