I’ve got a new episode of the Fitness Matters podcast for you today, and this one’s going to help you bust through a barrier you might not even know you have!
We’ve all got negative self-talk in our heads, but do you worry that some of your thoughts are… too negative? Like, you’d really rather not think about them at all? Then I’ve got great news (plus some practical, put-it-to-use-today advice) for you!
WHAT YOU’LL LEARN:
👉 How to SEPARATE YOURSELF from your negative thoughts
👉 Why your brain is SUPPOSED TO think terrible things
👉 Why ugly thoughts FEEL SO BAD, and
👉 Why none of this has anything to do with WHO YOU ARE or WHAT YOU CAN DO
I HATE MY BODY (full transcript)
You’re listening to the Fitness Matters podcast with Pahla B. This is episode number 242, “I Hate My Body.”
Welcome to the Fitness Matters podcast where every week we talk about the fitness matters that matter to you. I’m Pahla B, YouTuber, certified life and weight loss coach, soon to be author and your best middle-aged fitness friend. Are you ready to talk about the fitness mindset that matters to you? Me too. Let’s go.
Ready to read and better yet, talk, about another great self-help book? Join the Pahla B Wellness Over 50 book club in partnership with Chirp audiobooks. Our July/August pick is “The Untethered Soul” by Michael Singer. You can grab it at a great discount with no monthly subscription fees at chirpbooks.com/pahla. That’s P-A-H-L-A. And while you’re there, be sure to click the follow button to get exclusive access, updates, and information about our live event. See you there.
Hello, hello, my friends. You guys, how about that intro? I mean, there’s no way to make that sentence sound like a friendly podcast introduction. This is a little bit of a serious topic today. I mean, it’s not maybe the most serious one we’ve ever talked about before, because I do have a couple of podcasts on grief, but this is one that I have been wanting to talk to you about for quite some time, and I wasn’t sure exactly where I was going to go with it or what I wanted to do with it, and one of the things that I’m doing . . . Let me pull back the curtain before we even start talking about our topic.
One of the things that I am doing now with the podcast is really, really trying to distill what I want to say into one really usable nugget. Now I’ve, technically speaking, always done that, but I’m actually trying a little bit harder now to really give you something actionable every time we talk so that you can take what I am saying out with you into the world and apply it to your life.
So here’s the thing about that sentence, “I hate my body.” It feels terrible. That’s a rough thing to tell yourself, and that’s what we’re talking about today. Whether or not you have heard that exact sentence in your brain or if you have other things that you tell yourself about your body, your life, about menopause, about your hopes and dreams for the future, about all kinds of things, what I really want to talk to you today about is not being afraid of your thoughts.
Now, sometimes we’ll say things out loud or to ourselves and we are aware of them. You’ve probably heard yourself say something like, “Oh, I hate my body” or, “Oh, it’s just so disgusting” or, “Oh my gosh, I’m having such a hard time with menopause.” Or you hear yourself, and I’m going to use this word lovingly, but you hear yourself complaining about something but you don’t necessarily hear what you are saying to yourself. The thing about the mean things that we say to ourselves is that we wouldn’t say it to somebody else and therefore, we have almost this layer of, “Well, I don’t want to examine it. I don’t want to think about it because I know it’s really mean.”
I think I told this story somewhat recently, but I also think that I edited it out of the podcast because the way I told the story came off a little bit less friendly than I meant for it to come off. So I’m going to tell you a story. And if you’ve heard it before, I apologize. And if you haven’t, then let’s just pretend like this is a brand new story.
I went on a road trip recently with my mom, and it was right after gas prices first went skyrocketing, which would’ve been, I don’t know, a couple of months ago at this point. $6 for gas is almost normal now, which is so weird to me. But in any event, it was right after gas prices just went through the roof. We were traveling a fair distance and so I had to fill up my gas tank. I drive a minivan, by the way, and it has an 18-gallon tank. You can probably do that math a whole lot better than I can, but we were almost on empty and so I filled up the gas tank.
I was filling it up and we were talking about, “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe how expensive gas is. This is so crazy,” and “What’s the world coming to?”, those kinds of conversations. So I finished filling it up and I went out to go put the gas cap back on, and my mom was like, “Just don’t look, Pahla. Just don’t look,” because, of course, the number was going to be huge, as it was. I mean, it was well over $100. In the moment, I rolled my eyes at my mom, and I think that’s why I edited this story out of the podcast before. Again, I might have left it in, but I think this is why I edited it out because I was still in that eye-rolling mode of it’s so ridiculous to tell yourself to just not look.
But it’s funny that since then, I have actually noticed in myself and other people a lot of different topics, not just gas prices, but thinking about stepping on the scale or thinking about adding up your calories or thinking about any number of things that we think we can’t handle. I want you to know that you can handle this. You can handle hearing what you are saying to yourself. Yeah, it’s mean, and that is why I tell you to go looking for it.
When I tell you to use the two-step tool, and here’s where I’m going to point you to the episode on mind management (Ep. 089 Mind Management https://pahlabfitness.com/ep-089-mind-management/), where we talk about the two-step tool, where you find your thoughts and decide if they’re helpful. I know how hard this is. I know the barrier of entry for lots of us is the whole “listen to your thoughts at all” thing. Thinking about not just hearing “I hate my body” in your head, but writing it down on a piece of paper, it feels like you are committing this thought to some kind of permanence, that you are admitting that you say such a thing or admitting that you feel such a thing and it feels really scary or awful in a way that it doesn’t need to.
The thing about finding your thoughts and deciding if they’re helpful is that I actually want you to find all of your thoughts, even the ugly ones, even the mean ones, even the ones that you wouldn’t ever say to anybody else in the world, all of your thoughts that are rattling around in your head. This idea of “just don’t look,” I mean, you remember either when you were a kid or if you ever had kids playing hide and seek where you thought to yourself, “Oh, if I can’t see them, they can’t see me.” We play this game with our thoughts. We play this game with the scale. We play this game all the time. And the fact is just because you are not looking at it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
You weigh what you weigh, whether you step on the scale or not. You look like you look, whether you look in the mirror or not. You have thoughts in your head, whether you are listening to them or not. And the first step towards feeling better is, ironically, feeling worse. I know that sounds so bad, but it is going to feel temporarily worse to hear these ugly thoughts.
Here’s what I want you to know about listening to your ugly thoughts. You don’t need to be afraid of them because they don’t mean anything about you at all. You have thoughts, but you are not your thoughts. I want you to really take that in for a moment. I think that this is probably one of the most foundational pieces of mindset work that lots of us really understand a little bit but also don’t, and it bears repeating again and again and again. You have thoughts and the fact that you can observe your thoughts, your superpower of metacognition, means that you are not your thoughts. You are the observer of your thoughts. Is your mind blown? Yeah.
You have the ability to think about your thoughts, which means that your thoughts are not who you are. Your brain has thoughts. This is exactly what your brain is supposed to do. Your brain takes in perceptions from everything, from the things you see, the things you hear, the things you smell, the things you taste, the things you touch. It takes in perceptions of the world and then your miraculous amazing brain makes meaning from those things.
I want you to think about this really quickly for a second. Have you ever thought about a tree? I’m looking at a tree. By the way, I’m in my car right now, we’re doing renovations and it is so loud in my house that even though it is 90 degrees outside, I am sitting in my car to record a podcast episode for you all because I love you and because this was the quietest place I could get to right now. And it’s not even all that quiet. But anyway, I’m looking at a tree right now because I’m outside in my hot, hot car.
Have you ever thought about how different the facts of a tree are versus our perception, our meaning of a tree? The tree that I’m looking at happens to be a palm tree, but the reason we call it a palm tree is because we decided that it is a palm tree. This tree simply exists. It is a thing in the world that . . . Well, it’s a grass thing. It’s technically not a tree, but it has fronds. It stands. This one happens to be probably about 15 to 20 feet tall. It exists as it is. But me looking at it, taking it in, having a perception of it, I have all kinds of thoughts that make meaning of that palm tree. Specifically, it means that I must be in California or maybe Florida because actually there are quite a few palm trees within my sight line right now. Some of them are in my front yard. Some of them are in my neighbor’s yard. But I made meaning of the tree. The tree simply exists. Your brain makes meaning out of things.
And because your brain has been doing this for your entire life out of everything you have ever perceived, including things that were terrible information . . . I mean, truly you have had people lie to you, you have had misinformation, you have had skewed information and it has all come in and yes, you are smart enough to discern what might be true or what might be false and make your own meaning out of it, but your brain is constantly doing this thing that it does. And it does it automatically. It does not need your permission. You, the observer of your brain. It does not need your permission to make meaning of things.
So your brain has made meaning of things that are not helpful to you. This is the crux of why we find our thoughts and decide if they’re helpful. Your brain has terrible information that it keeps offering you, something like, for example, “I hate my body.” That’s a thought that you don’t have to think. And yet, because your brain is doing what your brain does, it feels very true. It feels very painful. This, again, is your brain doing exactly what your brain is supposed to do. Your brain is supposed to take in perceptions, for example, looking at your body in the mirror. It is supposed to make meaning out of that because of all of the other things you have ever taken in in your lifetime, your brain, at some point, settled on the thought, “I hate my body.” You have plenty of reasons for this, and they’re not valid reasons, let me just tell you. I’m talking about social conditioning. We hear from all kinds of sources that you, technically speaking, should hate your body.
Think about every magazine you’ve ever read, trying to fix something that’s wrong with you, trying to fix your trouble zones, trying to tell you that you have bat wings or a menopot or a muffin top or thunder thighs. You are constantly being told that you should hate your body. So of course your brain settled on that thought. Obviously, that’s what it was going to do. And then because the first time it came in, which by the way was probably when you were incredibly young, much, much, much too young to really think critically about what that thought means – when it came in, it met no resistance and then it just got really efficient at thinking it.
Your brain is supposed to be efficient, by the way. This is what brains and bodies do. They try to use the least amount of energy possible at all times. Your brain and your body know that you are going to live for a very long time so they are constantly trying to use the least amount of energy that they can so that you’ll survive the longest amount of time that you can. So what this means is that once your brain has had a thought, it does this thing. It carves a neural pathway. I like to think that it makes a wrinkle in your brain. It doesn’t really work quite like that but that’s how I think about it. And then once that wrinkle is made with no resistance, it’s going to continue to just keep walking along that path, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth just like if you were to walk through a meadow and create a path. Your neural pathway is a thought that you have thought a hundred, a thousand, a million, 10 million times. That’s all it is.
Now, the other thing that your brain is supposed to do is believe that it’s true. Here’s why it does that, because it doesn’t want to use any more energy. If you were to think something new and different every single time you looked at your body, you would, according to your body, waste so much energy. It takes more energy to think a new thought than to think an old thought. So your brain, in order to help you keep thinking that old thought, is going to gather evidence. It’s going to show you all the reasons why this thought is true and there’s just no reason to be thinking something different.
Now, here’s the thing. When all this is going on automatically behind the scenes and you’re not really noticing it, you start to believe this thought “I hate my body” or whatever other thought you have that sounds true and real in your brain. And then, because this thought feels so terrible, this is what’s supposed to happen. This is the chain of events that always happens. You take in a perception, you have a thought, that thought creates a feeling for you. That thought “I hate my body” feels terrible. It feels really defeating, really sad, really awful. And to your brain, your brain doesn’t care. I mean, your brain is supposed to think thoughts and create feelings. And for your brain and your body, your feelings are all perfectly natural, perfectly fine. They’re all supposed to exist. So even though you have the perception that your feeling is terrible, to your body, it’s completely normal, completely natural, completely fine.
The thing is, though, you very likely don’t want to feel that yucky feeling. You think the thought, you have the yucky feeling, and then you would really rather avoid feeling that yucky feeling. It’s why we try to not step on the scale or not find these kinds of thoughts that feel painful. We would much rather avoid something that seems like it’s going to be painful. This is when I call on Janet Jackson to help me out here with the pleasure principle. It is a well known, established psychological fact that your brain is always, always, always seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. So when it has a thought that creates a feeling that you think is painful . . . Again, your feeling is perfectly natural, perfectly acceptable to your body, but you have thoughts about, “Ooh, this feels so churney in my stomach, and I get sweaty and I feel sick and sad.” You have created for yourself a situation in which you would like to avoid feeling that yucky feeling. Again, completely normal, completely natural. None of this is a problem yet, truly. If you take nothing away from this podcast episode, take this away. Nothing that I’ve talked about so far is actually a problem. Everything that you are doing – having the thought “I hate my body” and then wanting to avoid thinking that thought and then wanting to avoid examining that thought – is perfectly normal and natural.
Here’s the part where I’m going to tell you to do something abnormal and unnatural. I’m going to tell you to actually find that thought, to actually write it down on a piece of paper and look at it from the lens of your compassionate observer, compassionately observing this thought without judging yourself for having the thought. Your brain is supposed to think thoughts like this. It makes absolute sense that your brain has offered you the thought “I hate my body.” It doesn’t mean that that thought is true. It doesn’t mean your body should be hated or is hateful. It simply means that you are having a thought.
And when you can remove that layer of judgment, like “I shouldn’t be thinking this” or “It’s so awful that I think that,” or “It feels so terrible when I think it and I don’t want to think it. I want to avoid it. I don’t want to examine this. I’d really rather just look away.” When you can peel all of those layers off of the thought and simply look at the thought . . . For me, this is actually really easy. I literally wrote that down on this piece of paper as the title of the podcast, “I Hate My Body.” It’s four words. It’s . . . Can I count? 5, 6, 7, 11 letters. For me personally, it has a period at the end, and it has quotation marks around it because that is the title of the podcast with quotes around it as though somebody has said this thing.
When you can see your thought on a piece of paper and compassionately observe it, this is where you can get real agency over it. When you allow yourself . . . And believe me, this is a situation in which you will need to allow this to happen. Your natural inclination is going to be to resist it. We just talked about that. That’s completely normal. You want to avoid, generally speaking, things that are painful. But when you can remove the judgment about yourself having this thought, this thought doesn’t need to be painful. It doesn’t need to be crushing. You can observe that your brain has this thought and further, you can feel. You can compassionately observe the feeling in your body as uncomfortable, as unpleasant. Rather than avoiding trying to feel this feeling, you can allow this feeling to exist in your body and recognize that this feeling has information for you. Specifically, it has the information for you that this thought isn’t helpful.
When you can compassionately observe . . . And let me talk about that really quickly. I do actually have a podcast episode called The Compassionate Observer (Ep. 211 The Compassionate Observer https://pahlabfitness.com/ep-211-the-compassionate-observer/), and I’m actually going to record a different one because I’ve come to some other conclusions since recording that one. It’s still good information. You can go listen to it. Please do. And let me add something else to it because here’s what I’ve noticed in my own practice of compassionately observing myself. And I say it that way really specifically, as opposed to being the compassionate observer.
In the original podcast episode I talked a lot about it as though it were a state of mind, as though it is this thing or a location that you go to and from there you can do all this stuff with your journal. And what I’ve realized since then is that it is actually an action, observing, that is being driven, as all actions are, from a feeling of compassion. Which means that in order to compassionately observe your words and your thoughts, you actually have to have a thought that creates the feeling of compassion and drives the action of observing.
For me personally, there are a couple of different thoughts, a couple of different tricks that I use. One of the thoughts isn’t a one-sentence thought; it’s actually a very visual sensation where I picture the person writing in the journal as a small child, and the thoughts being sentences that a small child is saying to me. I was a preschool teacher for a number of years. It’s really easy for me to feel compassionate about small children. They’re so unruly. They’re so illogical. They just don’t know anything. They’re supposed to be illogical, irrational, and all over the place. They’re supposed to. That’s just what small children are like. So when I think about my brain offering me these thoughts, I have a lot of compassion when I think, “Well, yeah, this thought came to me probably when I was a small child before I had any ability, any defenses against just taking that in and taking it on as my own.”
Something else that you might do is picture these words coming from a friend that can help you feel compassionate and then observe. Sometimes I’ve had people tell me that it helps to think of the thoughts as in some third person manner, whether or not it’s a friend or a small child, maybe even a pet. Again, somebody that you feel compassion towards, which drives the action of simple observation without judgment. No matter how you can compassionately observe, that’s what this takes. Compassionately observing your thoughts can help you not feel afraid of them.
And let me reiterate, it’s completely natural that you do feel afraid of them. It’s completely natural that you don’t want to observe your thoughts when they seem like they’re going to be very, very painful, when they are creating uncomfortable feelings for you. Recognizing that that is the only thing that’s going on here, that you personally are the observer of your thoughts, that you personally are not the embodiment of these ugly, painful, uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, but rather that you can simply see them, this is how we get traction. This is how we move forward towards loving your body.
Sometimes people will offer you this advice that the thing to do is to put that thought out of your mind. This is something I grew up hearing also, and I see this advice given all the time to distract yourself from ugly thoughts to intentionally think something better, something happier, something more loving towards yourself. “When you hear ‘I hate my body,’ remind yourself of all the great things your body can do.” The thing about that is that by not acknowledging that this thought exists in your brain, trying to pretend that it doesn’t exist, doesn’t make it not exist. Simply piling more thoughts on top of it . . . I mean, this is a princess and a pea kind of a thing. The pea still exists. No matter how many mattresses you pile on top of it, that pea is still there. You can still feel it. You are that sensitive of a super special princess. I am too. Aren’t we all special little princesses like that?
When you have an unpleasant, uncomfortable, ugly thought, piling happy thoughts on top of it does not make that thought go away. Compassionately observe that thought, don’t be afraid of that thought, recognize that that thought is not the essence of you but rather it is a product of your brain.
Your brain, by the way, just like your body, also creates waste products. You might think about it like that if that works for you. And yes, what I’m saying is that sometimes you have crappy thoughts. That’s exactly what I’m saying, and it’s completely okay. Your body produces waste too. That doesn’t mean you’re not a miracle. It doesn’t mean you’re not amazing. It just means that your brain and your body are supposed to do things biologically, chemically, organically and you have the ability to compassionately observe that.
Your compassionate observer, by the way, your ability to compassionately observe is the thing that’s going to move you forward. Practicing compassionate observing as a skill is going to take you everywhere you want to go. Compassionately observing your thoughts means that you don’t need to be afraid of them. It means that you can find them. You can examine them. It means that you can feel the feelings that they create for you and also compassionately observe that. Notice, “Well, this feeling is really uncomfortable. This feeling feels like something I would rather avoid. I’m capable of feeling it. I’m feeling it in my body right now, but it’s also optional.” Compassionately observing all of the parts of the process that are going to get you to your goal, your thoughts, your feelings, your actions, even your results is the thing that will move you forward.
My friends, you think you hate your body and that’s all that’s going on here. You’re having a thought. That thought doesn’t define you, and it also doesn’t have to stop you. Find your thoughts, decide if they’re helpful, and go get your goals.
You guys, thank you so much for listening today. I’ll talk to you again soon.
If you are getting a lot out of the Fitness Matters podcast and you’re ready to take it to the next level, you are going to love the Get Your Goal coaching and accountability group. We take all the theory and knowledge here on the podcast and actually apply it in real life on your real weight loss and fitness goals. It’s hands-on, it’s fun, and it works. Find out more at pahlabfitness.com/get-your-goal, and let’s get your goal.