March’s Tiny Change: Notice Your Subconscious Thoughts About Food

*This post is part of Kale and Chocolate’s year-long #12tinychanges challenge. Each month, we’re implementing one small, super doable change-over a year it really adds up! Read about all changes here and share your progress on Instagram with the hashtag #12tinychanges. (Did I mention that there are lots of theme-related GIVEAWAYS each month?! Read on!)

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For the last six months, we’ve been making teeny, tiny, totally doable changes in the direction of creating and sustaining healthier lives. So far, we’ve talked about how we fuel our bodies (eating breakfast every day, trying plant-based foods, cooking at home, and moving and resting our bodies.) But a perfectly fueled, well-rested body won’t do us any good if it’s home to a negative, pessimistic, self-critical mind.

Have you ever found yourself having unkind thoughts like these?

“I can’t believe I ate all that pasta. Gross. I’m so weak.”

“How do I keep screwing this up? I told myself I wasn’t going to overeat and here I am, stuffed, unhappy, and guilty. I should be better than this.”

“I know that dairy upsets my stomach, but I just ate half a pint of ice cream. I’m so bad.”

I recognize them myself because this is something that I struggled with for ages. If I ate too much, I’d say mean things to myself. If I didn’t eat enough vegetables, ate mindlessly, or if told myself that I wasn’t going to finish the rest of the hummus and then when I did—I’d berate myself.

This food-related stress and anxiety isn’t just emotionally unhealthy: it’s physically unhealthy. Marc David, my mentor and founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, explains that our thoughts quite literally affect how our bodies function. Guilt and other negative, stress-related emotions trigger the release of cortisol, which can cause us to store more calories as body fat.

Thinking negative, stress-inducing thoughts after a meal impacts our digestion and nutrient assimilation and removes any pleasure we might have experienced while eating the food. To put it simply: the thoughts we think about the food we eat instantly become the reality in our bodies via the central nervous system.

By now, we’ve heard “you are what you eat,” but you are also what you think! This month, let’s commit to stopping unkind thoughts before they even start. We can rewire our mind to be more positive. Here are three steps to help you release negative food and body chatter, once and for all:

1. Take note of when and how you say these things to yourself.
For many of us, these unkind thoughts are mental background noise. We’ve heard them so many times, playing on repeat in our heads, that we don’t even notice them anymore. Whether we are aware of them or not, they affect our self-esteem, our choices, and the chemicals in our bodies. Noticing these thoughts is the first step to healing our relationships with food and our bodies.

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2. Speak to yourself the way you’d speak to a young child or a dear friend.
We would never, ever tell a friend that she was “weak” for having a second serving of brownies, but for years I’d say things like this—and worse!—to myself. When I finally realized that my negative self-talk was a problem, I struggled to find positive, supportive things to say to myself. If you’re in the same boat, talk to yourself the way you’d talk to a dear friend or a young child.

“You’re doing your best.”

“You made the most of a tough situation.”

“You’re doing a great job—keep it up!”

“I’m proud of you.”

When we give ourselves the same amount of love and attention that we give other people, our internal dialogue begins to shift. This can feel a little awkward at first, but keep the conversation going! Training a new behavior takes time, and once it’s ingrained, you’ll have swapped a harmful, unhealthy, and counter-productive habit for a positive, uplifting, healthy one. Using kind, supportive language in your conversations with yourself will help ease the food stress—and more!

3. Remember that you are the creator of your thoughts, so you can change them.
When we tune into our inner dialogue, it’s easy to feel out of control. It can seem as though we’re being forced to listen to a radio station where a mean (or even spiteful!) DJ isn’t taking requests.

But it’s important to remember that our thoughts—both good and bad—originate from us. We are the creators of our thoughts, so we are capable of changing them. I can say to myself, “That’s how I was for the last XX years, but I don’t want to be like that any more. This changes now.”

Your mind is a one-person radio station—and you are the only one who gets to choose the playlist. Believe it or not, it’s all up to you! You can even try this trick for re-routing your internal monologue: The next time you start to hear the same unkind chatter that plays on repeat, I want you to actually think (or say!) the words: “Stop. Change the station.”

Imagine reaching out toward the knob on your car radio and turning the dial. Or imagine pulling the headphones out of your iPhone and being greeted with glorious (and peaceful!) silence. Try it. You won’t believe how effective this can be!

Changing the way you think is a journey that requires a lot of focus and effort. Be gentle with yourself during this process and try not to get down on yourself when and if you have those negative thoughts again. They’re bound to resurface occasionally. Awareness is the first step here!

To help you have kinder & more loving thoughts, I’ve teamed up with some incredible partners to give you awesome and supportive tools for this month’s challenge. Simply join the conversation #12tinychanges on instragam and tag @kaleandchocolate and @hamptonskiley.

One Healthy Breakdown: What you think is just as important as what you eat. And the only person who can change your mind is YOU.

Yoga’s Gift to Me

Young Woman Meditating on the FloorMoms have the hardest job! With five kids of my own, I’m guilty of bellowing “I can’t take another minute of this!” Not so positive, I know… But I have to be honest, I meant it! I meant this and…many other negative, self-defeating thoughts and statements through the years. General stress topped with ‘end-of-day-mommy-exhaustion’ can do that to a person. Am I right or am I right?

Then one day, I heard my daughter shout in an awful, guttural, honestly horrifying way, “I can’t TAKE another MINUTE of THIS!” I couldn’t even try to deny where she got it from, everyone in the house looked right at me. It really is something when we face ourselves in our children isn’t it? The good, the bad and the ugly. Ugh.

In my highly-energized (some may say ‘wound-up,’ I prefer ‘highly energized’) way, I shared this latest exclamation with one of my serene, calm, always-balanced friends (we differ in some ways…) She suggested I join her for a yoga class. Yoga? Not fast enough for me. I spin, I run, I lift, I swim, and I do triathlons. I am fit. Yoga? I don’t think so. Truly the teacher would not want me there. I will squirm, mentally go thru my grocery list, watch everyone else, count how many ladies are wearing LuLu…nah, it won’t be good, it’s not for me.

My friend persisted….she spoke of things like breathing, (duh, I do that!) listening, slowing down, (slow is not usually my style) and sweating (now that’s what I like to hear!) So I went to yoga. And to this day, I have a dysfunctional relationship with yoga, but I did I get one of the biggest life-changing gifts during that yoga class.

My mother always said: “f you have nothing nice to say, say nothing.” In life, that saying has always stayed with me, but there’s more to it. What I learned in that yoga class was the power of positive thoughts. Pay attention, this is actually life-altering. Take it from me, the skeptical mom of five who will try anything to make life flow a teeny, tiny bit smoother.

At the end of class, the teacher had us close our eyes and lay on our backs. She continued to quietly talk about self-kindness and the power of positive thoughts. (I should probably mention the fact that she was going from person to person massaging each of our feet – THAT may have helped!) Anyway, she suggested, when we go home, to hear our negative thoughts and try to replace every negative thought with a positive thought, recite the positive thought aloud, take 3 big inhales and exhales, and then recite the positive thought again.

The payoff? That yoga teacher claimed many; serenity, calm, happiness, hope, gratitude, improved immune system, improved overall mental health, improved concentration, and more! What mom isn’t looking for a little of that? So I tried it. And it worked. Not overnight, it takes time, but it helps. A lot. It’s something I am mindful of everyday, and it works.

While I can become a bit discouraged about the number of times a negative thought still floats through my mind, I’m in awe of my ability to press ‘rewind’ and turn a negative into a positive. I’ve discovered positive behavior follows positive thinking! You know what else? Positive energy attracts positive energy! I’m constantly amazed at how greatly this one exercise has empowered me. Finally, I live a life full of positivity. And the change is actually doable. It’s free, it’s personal, and it’s mind-blowing.

The best part? The other day…my daughter was running across the playground and a little boy bumped into her. She took quite a spill. As I approached her, I braced myself for her response. Perhaps she would cry, want to go home, or even lash out at the other child. Guess what? She slowly got up and while wiping all the sand off her knees, I heard her mumbling “It’s ok, little boy. We are fine. We are strong kids! We are positive! Want to play?” And off they went!

I am inspired by that yoga teacher. She taught me that being fit is about more than just my body. It’s about being strong enough to listen to my thoughts, breath thru them, make a choice to change them, and believe in the power of positivity. It’s a great gift we can give ourselves and our children. Try it for yourself…if I can do it, you can do it!

*Norah Benincasa is the owner of Pedal and Pose Fitness Studio in Concord, MA. She is a certified personal trainer, spin instructor, TRX trainer, Body Pump trainer, more…and mom of five! Norah holds a masters degree in social work and is an expert in all things fitness!