Know your triggers

better body image

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Whilst I talk a lot about my Golden Rules for better self-esteem, the one thing I couldn’t use them without is a knowledge of what starts me off thinking bad thoughts (and indulging in negative behaviours as a result). Without this, I wouldn’t even have been able to create the rules, let alone put them into practice and make things better for myself.

The Golden Rules are general and I feel they’ll work for most people, but the root triggers behind the things we do are of course unique. Some may be the same, some may be slightly different, some may be the complete opposite. So I wrote this post to discuss why knowing your triggers is so important, and how you can identify them so that you can use the Golden Rules more effectively and start your journey to better self-esteem and body confidence today. 

What are my triggers?

As you can see, I know most of my triggers now – and that allows me to know what to avoid. But sometimes I don’t realise and I either have to remind myself, or I have to come up with a new coping strategy or put other things in place so that I can live with myself day-to-day much better without bad thoughts or harmful behaviours getting in the way.

Social media is a trigger for me – along with photoshopped images and selfies. When I talk to other people I find they struggle with the same things, or perhaps a blend of others. For example they may have one friend in particular that they envy, or have people who are nasty and no good for them in their lives (including partners, friends and family) who fuel their insecurities.

How can you identify your triggers? 

To identify your triggers, you need to realise firstly when you’re thinking or doing things which are harming your self-esteem. For example, beating yourself up over the advert on the television. Considering a new diet. Feeling bad because you’re not the ‘ideal weight’ you want to be. Sometimes these can be individual situations, but sometimes they can actually be a chain of events all leading from the same source – for example, you could see the advert then feel as though you don’t measure up, so you go on a diet.

Once you see this happening, stop for a second and ask why. Why am I doing this? Why am I feeling like that? Was it a comment someone made? Was it a habit of weighing yourself (more about this here, here and here). Was it an image on social media that made you feel inadequate? Sometimes it’s surprisingly easy to see the root cause behind what you do and say and feel – at other times you might have to dig a little bit deeper. Then you can set appropriate boundaries to protect yourself from the things that harm your self-esteem – and that’s what the Golden Rules are all about.

Adapting the Golden Rules to fit your triggers

I made the Golden Rules using my own triggers, selecting the ones which most people identify with and tell me they also struggle with. So using the examples above, here’s how you’d apply my Golden Rules:

 

“Someone made a comment about me”

Golden RuleDon’t give a shit about what other people think

How to deal with it: If the comment was purposefully malicious then you have to ask why that person wants to make you feel bad. Usually it’s because there’s something they’re dissatisfied with about themselves, so they feel the need to point out ‘flaws’ in other people (rightly or wrongly) to help them to feel better. This is just one reason why listening to comments other people make (and worrying about what they think) is futile – because not everyone is going to think you are amazing (and that’s okay). Remember also that often when we have low self-esteem we can even take compliments the wrong way if they don’t fit in with our ideal self – or simply feel that someone has said something negative about us when in fact they haven’t because our insecurities fill in the blanks.

 

“I weigh myself regularly and today I’m a lb over. Now I feel fat.”

Golden Rule – Stop weighing yourself

How to deal with it: I’ve been here. The solution? I stopped weighing myself (you can read more about that here). That’s probably not what you wanted to hear, but it’s one of the best things I ever did and I’m sure it’ll help you, too. Remember right now that weight means nothing – more on that and why you shouldn’t worry about that 1lb here.

 

“An image on social media made me feel bad”

Golden Rule: Avoid Social Media

How to deal with it: Again, a simple solution here. Cut it out! More here.

 

“I’m self-conscious about the size of my legs and I see girls everywhere who have slim, long legs. I wish I had legs like them.”

 Golden Rules: Stop comparing and Find something you like

How to deal with it: Clearly this one thing about your legs consumes you. Perhaps you have body dysmorphia, or maybe you’ve become obsessed with looking like someone else. I had the same thing with various parts of myself (all of which I’ve come to accept), including my hair, my stomach, my legs, my boobs. At the end of the day we can’t change who we are, and we shouldn’t (link), but also we need to recognise that comparison achieves nothing (other than making us feel bad). It’s been proven that we rarely come off better when we compare, so it’s best to try and squash that habit. I also talk about self-acceptance in my books and in the Golden Rules – and to do this you can find one thing you like. So you don’t like your legs, but do you like your eyes? Your nails? There will be something.

 

If you’re struggling with any of these and haven’t already, take a look through my Golden Rules for better self-esteem here.

 

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My Golden Rules for better self-esteem

better self-esteem

 better self-esteem

I set up Tough Cookie because I spent well over 10 years hating myself. For some reading this that might not sound like a long time, but when you consider that I’m only 24 and I started when I was 11 you can see why in relation to my life as a whole this is significant – it’s pretty much 50%!

A few years ago I started changing things for myself. I realised that I was never going to love my life (or myself) if I continued, and without at least a little appreciation for who I was, I wouldn’t be happy and achieve the things I wanted to achieve. So slowly but surely I started to make small changes – changes which eventually snowballed until I reached a point of what I like to call ‘semi-self-acceptance.’

Now this doesn’t mean I’m ‘better’. It doesn’t mean that everything is great inside my head now. It doesn’t mean I don’t still have body dysmorphia or struggle with how I look. But it does mean that I am no longer imprisoned by my own self-hatred. It means I can live my life day to day and manage the negative thoughts I sometimes have about myself. And it means that if I can, you can too!

 From those small changes I developed my ‘Golden Rules’ to help people in similar positions to me to develop better self-esteem. I talk about these in Tough Love (in fact, the book is filled with tips like this) but for the purpose of this blog I wanted to condense the things I’ve learnt and use every day down into a few simple steps you can follow to help you on your way to semi-self-acceptance.

Stop comparing

Comparison is single-handedly one of the WORST things you can do to yourself. It’s a great way to destroy your self-esteem, as generally when we compare we do so to find some sort of fault in ourselves and a positive thing in other people.

It’s likely you’re making comparisons with others without even knowing it. Staring longingly at a celebrity’s abs in a magazine, feeling jealous of your friend’s hair, looking at other people’s skin because you feel as though yours is bad.

 Firstly, you’ve got to be aware of what you’re doing before you can combat it, so try to pay attention to yourself when you’re feeling bad and see whether that’s because you’re feeling negative about what you have because of something ‘positive’ somebody else has. Then when you find yourself doing this remember one thing you like about yourself (more on this in a second). You might feel as though there isn’t anything – but there will be one thing, however small. If you’re struggling to do this, then removing the trigger that causes you to compare may be a positive step to take – and this could be reading trashy papers, trawling diet sites or social media.

 

Avoid social media

Social media is toxic for a number of reasons. Generally I have come to hate the concept of it and the behaviour it encourages – from a mental health perspective and in a personal capacity. It’s  exacerbates insecurities and   . But where self-esteem is concerned it can be especially harmful.

I understand that for some people, cutting out social media is like chopping off a limb. And by ‘avoid’ I don’t necessarily mean you have to cut it out completely – not if you don’t feel you need to. But you really need to be honest with yourself here. Does social media add something to your life, or does it take something away from you? Does it make you feel inadequate? Does it encourage you to focus on everything you don’t have and forget about the qualities and good things you possess?

Social media is filled with images of ‘perfection’. It’s designed to help people boast about themselves and their lives. You’ll rarely see things shared and loved which are ‘ugly’ – i.e, less than perfect. Where does that leave those of us who aren’t ‘perfect’ then? Don’t forget that what you see online isn’t reality. It’s a carefully-constructed version of reality which is 100% going to make you feel bad by comparison.

I found myself constantly comparing without even realising it, feeling as though I couldn’t stop. I was almost addicted to scrolling through Instagram and twitter, following models and ‘hot girls’ accounts, hoping that through looking at the images and links I could better myself, I could look and be like them. Obsessively

 More on why I quit social media for better self-esteem here.

 

Assess potentially damaging situations

I know when I am going to be in a position which may trigger my insecurities. But we can’t go through life avoiding everything – even if we want to. Some situations I will actively avoid if they serve no purpose other than to make me feel bad (I stopped attending modelling castings for example), but for those which are unavoidable (or things I should definitely be present for) I have to put protective measures in place to help me to cope in case I feel bad (thinking about a positive thing I like to counteract comparison when I’m going to be in a situation which causes me to compare, reminding myself that beauty is subjective, remembering that often what we see is fake and manufactured if I’m watching a movie or a television programme I would normally avoid). If you suffer social anxiety because of body dysmorphia also remember that it’s never as bad as you think it is – and you may even end up feeling better after you take a leap of faith.

 

Don’t give a shit about what other people think

 This one’s hard – I know that. But one thing I’ve learned over the years is that happiness is never achieved through trying to please others. You life and worth should be based on doing the things you love with people you don’t fear judgment from – but unfortunately social media and other modern-day social conventions often make us feel as though our lives are lived for the approval of others. Whether you’re being bullied or constantly worry about how you come across to others, remember that their opinions really don’t matter. Enjoy being you and work on being comfortable in your own skin without compliments and approval from other people.

 

Find something you like

This has been really helpful for me on my own journey to better self-esteem – and although you might at first think (just like I did) ‘what the hell is there to like?’ actually you’ll find something. And once you find one thing, you open the door to others. 

I started aged 17 with my nails. I always got compliments on them – they were long and strong and square – they looked artificial but they were all mine. At the time I thought that was all I had going for me, so when a friend asked me: ‘tell me one thing you like about yourself.’ I thought long and hard and came up with my nails.

Aged 21 I (finally) felt able to change my mind over my thighs and my arse – parts of me which had been a big problem for me for ten years. Aged 23 I felt able to stop weighing myself. Now aged 24 I don’t feel as anxious about how I look. Starting with something so small as my fingernails actually helped me on my journey to self-acceptance – or at least semi-self-acceptance – so choosing one thing you like as a starting point can be really valuable.

You can see that my journey wasn’t an overnight change of heart. It took me a while to accept myself (mostly) as I am. But starting with one thing allowed me to consider others – and over time this snowballed until I came to love parts of myself I never thought I would.

 

Stop monitoring and weighing yourself

Throw away the tape measure, the weighing scales, the calipers. Stop scrutinising yourself and basing your worth on a set of numbers. When I had Anorexia I spent a long time in the mirror or just staring at myself to see whether I was ‘thin enough’ yet. Weighing myself had become a way to obsessively monitor myself but also to feel better or worse depending on whether I achieved my goals. This started with the diets I went on aged 12 and finished only a few years ago when I realised that my obsession with weight did nothing to benefit me mentally or physically. I always looked the same, even when my weight fluctuated dramatically. The only thing that made me feel different (usually bad) was the number on the scale, so I ditched them. You can read more about why I stopped weighing myself and why here.  

Ready to get better self-esteem? Need help implementing the Golden Rules? Take a look at Tough Love here.

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Why I had to ban myself from Pinterest (sad face)

Banned from Pinterest

Banned from Pinterest

I talk a lot about social media and how I believe it affects our collective self-esteem negatively through constantly promoting ‘perfect’ bodies, faces and everything else, causing us to compare and compare ourselves until we feel inadequate. For this reason I banned myself from social media other than using it for business and Tough Cookie (you can read about this and my self-imposed boundaries to protect my self-esteem here). In the original post I discuss Facebook, Twitter and Instagram in particular – but recently I realised that one of my much-loved social networks Pinterest was just as harmful as the others, and I forced myself to step away.

I generally dislike social media on a personal level. I think it breeds a climate of toxic one-upmanship which encourages us all to be in competition which each other whilst we post about our so-called ‘perfect’ lives. Many people now measure their worth or interestingness through ‘likes’ and ‘shares’. It’s ironically a fantastic way to waste your life, because although it makes you feel important and as though your life is better than everyone else’s, the people who are really living aren’t scrolling through other people’s rants or sharing what they had for breakfast – they’re out enjoying their lives.

 So it wasn’t difficult for me to quit Facebook and Twitter (in principle – I still have profiles which I rarely use or use for business). Apart from rare times when I’m drawn in after accidentally seeing posts and think ‘oh my god I should have been sharing every selfie and every event in my life for all this time!’ I generally don’t miss it. But one social network I do like is Pinterest.

I’d spend hours on Pinterest every night a couple of years ago. After work I’d lie in bed scrolling through, pinning beautiful homes to my ‘House’ board (I don’t have a house yet!), pinning stunning images of various idyllic holiday destinations to my ’Travel’ board (I’ve not even scratched the surface of my travel list) and most worryingly pinning photographs of other people because i wished I could look like them. Whilst the ‘Quotes’ boards helped me immensely, I inadvertently often undid the good work they did and crushed my positive thoughts by going back to the boards which made me crave more in my life rather than appreciating what I currently have.

 But by nature Pinterest is aspirational. You rarely see an image that does’t represent life perfection on there – and if you do it’s for a post telling you how you can get that perfect life/body/hair/face. And it’s all fake. Eeks.

I didn’t realise how harmful Pinterest was until I was sharing photographs at shoots and with my bestie/hairdresser and people started to point out that without a face transplant (and a lot of extensions) I wasn’t going to achieve this ‘ideal look’ I’d formulated for myself, which naturally went with my ‘ideal life’ living in a beautiful house, travelling the world and running a business. And I started to see images on there that had made me feel bad on Twitter and Instagram (mostly models and ‘perfect’ make-up and hair photos) and realised that the old issues were creeping back in. The comparing, the fretting. I’d even created boards filled with pictures of people I wished to emulate, and I’d scroll through the images uncontrollably until I felt horrendously bad, fixated on what they had, what I lacked and how I could fix that. 

Now I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be aspirational and ambitious. Those boards helped me to achieve a lot, namely starting my own business and living life the way I want to. Travelling more. But it’s when we start to feel bad inside as a consequence that the trouble starts – because we can never move forward if we’re stuck in the past or worrying about the future in the present rather than enjoying it for what it is.

How many people reading this post have done a similar thing subconsciously with Pinterest or another social network? I bet a lot of you have without even knowing it. Banning yourself from social media (and in particular Pinterest, or another site you love) can be difficult, but the rewards are significant. You might feel as though you ‘need’ social media, but it’s only been around for less than ten years. i remember that life before social media was much simpler – and even then, i had issues. So if you also struggle with your self-esteem just imagine what damage social media is doing to you right now. Remember that social media encourages comparison – n fact, it’s almost unavoidable. for me comparison is like a drug – it makes me feel good at first and I can’t help but look at those images of ‘perfection’ (which have been tampered with and styled to the nth degree), but then I just feel bad, really bad. and as I ‘come down’ from the high I feel even worse. Recognise the pattern when you’re next online, and realise that there’s more to life than this.

 Need help quitting social media? Ready to feel better about yourself? Read my Golden Rules here.

 

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Why do you weigh yourself?

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Weight is an increasingly prevalent issue in society, not just for anyone with an eating disorder. As we become more anxious about the image we project to others, we naturally wish to be slim as the celebrities and advertisers tell us we should be. As a result so many people weigh themselves every week or even every few days – but what benefit does this bring (if any), and most importantly what harm can it cause?

I did a radio interview and phone-in last year in Ireland and one of the ladies spoke openly about her lifelong obsession with her weight. She didn’t believe it was a problem – although as she described the way she’d starve herself if she found she’d gained a couple of pounds I listened horrified and waited for my opportunity to speak. I told her what I’m about to explain in this post – that although stepping on the scales may appear to be an innocent and healthy habit, sometimes it can become a controlling obsessive compulsion which results in harmful behaviour.

Regularly weighing yourself doesn’t necessarily indicate that you have a problem with eating or with your appearance. It’s often suggested it is a healthy thing to do – and for people who are overweight, it certainly is one of the only ways to monitor progress. I talk about weighing ourselves in Tough Cookie and Tough Love – and I discuss how I feel it’s a harmful thing for ‘healthy’ people to do for all sorts of reasons. It’s not the action but the motive that concerns me. That’s because lots of women and men now weigh themselves constantly.

I know that January is the ‘height’ of the diet season – and that’s partly the reason behind me putting out this post. As an important part of dieting, we are encouraged to weigh ourselves to ‘monitor progress’. But most people who embark on these fad diets (mentioning no names) aren’t morbidly obese. They’re just dissatisfied with themselves and are influenced by advertisements filled with ‘bikini bodies’ and encouragement to diet. They feel ‘fat’ because they’ve eaten more over the festive period and are inactive because it’s so bloody cold. In fact, diets have ruined our relationship with food and our own bodies systematically for years – you can read more about my view on that if you don’t know already here.

Part of the reason I’m passionate about sharing my viewpoint on weight is that it is something which shackled me for a long while. It meant such a lot to me to weigh myself – but now I never do it anymore. Originally out of fear, but now because I have realised how unhealthy it is for me. I don’t need to weigh myself. I was always within a bracket of half a stone, and whatever end of the spectrum I was at, I looked the same and felt the same – that is until I stepped on the scales and realised I’d put on a pound. Then I’d spend a day (or even a week) panicking and stressing until I weighed myself again and surprise surprise, discovered it was just a fluctuation. After all, a pound is a miniscule amount of weight to gain or lose.

It consumed a fair amount of energy as I panicked about which number would pop up this week, orchestrating my eating and toilet habits around this 1 or 2 minute ritual. It was one of the things which stayed with me since my eating disorder – a (pretty bad) habit. When I was poorly, I’d weigh myself once or twice a day. Then I went to once a week eventually and stayed that way throughout recovery because it was essential for me to monitor my weight gain. After a few years however I was still weighing myself once a week on a Friday morning every single week, but now I got panicked as I stripped off to step on the scales and felt sick and fat all day if I’d gained even a tiny bit of weight.

The reason I’m discussing weighing habits is that I know that I wasn’t alone in this and that so many people still weigh themselves even though it’s fruitless and makes them feel unhappy. Monitoring weight gives us control – something which Anorexia craves. Therefore it’s very easy for all of us to change our habits to fit in around the number on the scale because we become addicted to the feeling of control it gives us – whether we have an eating disorder or not.

I speak to lots of women and men who constantly weigh themselves – something which makes them miserable and dictates the way they live their lives. It also distorts how they see themselves based on the weight – so putting on a pound or two suddenly reveals every inch of ‘extra fat’ on their bodies and their clothes feel tight. Lose a couple and you feel like a supermodel. Or (worse) you feel so good that you’re compelled to continue – even though you’re fine as you are.

Many people also have a fixation with their ‘ideal weight’. This isn’t something a doctor has calculated for them – it’s not even based on how they look and feel. It’s based on how they think they look and feel. I used to have an ideal weight, too. But now I’m probably half a stone over that and I look and feel the same – I’m happy with my body and I don’t need to know how much I weigh. At the time you could have told me that and I’d have been horrified. Occasionally of course I’m hit with the urge to get the scales out – but I never do because I know that it’s the wrong thing to do. I’m sure there are plenty of you reading this who are similarly feeling frightened as I was at the thought of going over your ‘perfect’ benchmark weight.

It’s difficult for people who haven’t been there to understand obsessive weighing – but I have. That’s the reason I’m asking you today to try letting go. Try to remember that your body is constantly working for you to keep you alive. This means that things change from day to day – levels of water, hormones, chemicals. Your weight also changes. The way you see yourself and your body in relation to your weight has been cleverly implanted into your mind by diet companies who don’t care about you or your physical or mental health – they want your money. By treating your body as a wonderful thing which deserves to be looked after, and realising that you are often a static, steady and healthy weight with fluctuations as part of that process, you can begin to enjoy life without having to worry about stepping on those scales every morning.

For more about diets and weight, take a look at my books Tough Love and Nutrition in a Nutshell here.

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