The way you talk to yourself matters more than you think. Eliminate these toxic words from your vocabulary to get the results you want.
If you want to lose weight, diet and exercise matter. But even if you’re doing all the right things in the kitchen and at the gym, you might be sabotaging yourself with negative self-talk.
“Our minds are incredibly powerful,” says Caroline Juster, C.P.T., an elite trainer at Fitness Formula Clubs Union Station in Chicago. “If we repeatedly think something, you can bet it will start to influence our actions and behavior.”
Science agrees. Mounting research shows our internal narrative—or how we talk to ourselves—affects our emotional and physical well-being, and determines much of our actions, according to a 2018 analysis in Review of Philosophy and Psychology.
“Our internal dialogues are the most constant source of information we receive,” explains Paul Hokemeyer, Ph.D., a psychologist based in New York. “Through them, we gather information about our world and our place in it.”
People who regularly engage in negative, punishing, or critical self-talk tend to experience higher rates of not only depression and anxiety, but also unhealthy weight and obesity, Hokemeyer says.
Unhealthy self-talk spurs unhealthy action, along with a crime-and-punishment mentality that can make maintaining regular exercise and balanced nutrition incredibly difficult.
The Words to Watch
The first step in improving your self-talk is simply to pay attention: Be mindful of how you speak to yourself.
“Most of us say things to or about ourselves that we would never say to another person,” Juster says. “If you’re serious about making lasting changes, you have to learn to practice self-compassion and squash harmful internal dialogue before it snowballs into despair or apathy.”
Notice your patterns and, without judgment, put a hard stop around negative, self-critical, or defeating words. When you hear yourself using such words, stop what you’re doing and rephrase your thoughts with another word, Hokemeyer says.
“Over time, you’ll retrain yourself to naturally use more positive, empowering language—words that will help you reach your weight loss goals.”
Not sure what to nix from your vocabulary? Start with these four toxic words that often sabotage weight loss.
Word #1: Can’t
Tell yourself you can’t do something, and you’re probably right.
“Most of the time, you’re capable of much more than you tell yourself you are,” Juster says.
She recommends being open to new things and remembering that you’ll never be able to do something new until you try it. Fitness and nutrition present opportunities to make changes and do things that would never have been possible in the past, she says.
Look forward to discovering abilities that you never knew you had. It doesn’t have to be a major, long-term goal. Even small victories, like learning how to do a squat with perfect form or finding a great knee-friendly alternative to jumping jacks, can help you feel accomplished and grateful for what your body can do.
Word #2: Hate
“I hear this most often in the gym when people say they hate certain exercises or styles of training,” Juster says. “Chasing any fitness goal requires us to do some things we don’t like. You can make your experience much more pleasant if you get rid of this nasty word and take a more neutral approach.”
What’s more, the things we dislike are often the things that we simply aren’t good at—yet. Practice them more, improve your skills, and you might learn to love them.
That said, if you’re truly dreading your workouts, it may be time to mix things up. With so many ways to stay active, there’s no reason to settle for a workout that isn’t right for you. Plus, you’re much more likely to stick to an activity you actually enjoy.
If you need some ideas, check out our guide to the nine best types of exercise for older adults.
Word #3: Should
“Many people are bogged down by ‘should’ in different areas of their life,” Juster says.
We get frustrated when we don’t live up to the picture of who we should be or what we should do. But in the end, the only thing you actually should do is what is right for you and no one else.
“Everyone is moving along their journey at their own pace,” she says. “Failure is inevitable and presents opportunities to learn and grow. Ultimately, those who are most successful at losing weight believe in their ability to change, despite the fact they are flawed humans, just like everyone else.”
If something feels like more of a hassle than it’s worth, look for a better option, she says.
“For example, if you think you should cook more at home, but it’s seriously stressing you out, look for an alternative like a healthy meal delivery service.”
You can also try shortcuts, like making one of these three-ingredients dinners or picking up a rotisserie chicken and using it for multiple meals.
Or if you know you should be strength training but aren’t sure which exercises are safe and effective for your body, consider doing one or two sessions with a personal trainer to get started. You can also learn a lot from group fitness instructors who specialize in working with older adults.
Word #4: Must
“Sometimes healthy eating and exercise can feel like a chore,” Juster says. “But in the grand scheme of things, taking care of your body in this way is a privilege that many people around the world don’t have.”
Instead of saying “I must exercise,” say “I get to move my body in all of these great, nurturing ways,” Hokemeyer suggests.
“In so doing, you’ve taken the conflict out of the equation, and regained a sense of power and agency over your life,” he says. “And that’s when the magic happens.”
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