The Simple Habit That Changed My Entire Day

Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
A few weeks ago, I was packing my bag for a weekend at my dad's when I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I was in my underwear and bent over at the waist, digging around in my bureau. It was not, shall we say, a flattering angle. Instantly, I stood straight up and turned away, but it was too late.

Oh my God, I 'm a manatee. This is a disaster. I have to lose weight before I see my dad, or else he'll make that worried face and I will fall apart. My train leaves in 11 hours — can I lose 30 pounds in 11 hours?  

I've spent a year and a half in diet-deprogramming, actively working on my mental and physical health with therapists, eating coaches, trainers, mindfulness, meditation, and a shit ton of effort. I marinate in body positivity every day. I am surrounded by loving, supportive people. Right now, I am the best version of myself that I have ever been. But, one look in the mirror, and I'm a manatee. 

The phrase "self-talk" sets off new-age alarm bells for some. But, self-help-y though it may be, everyone does it — all day, every day. Self-talk is our knee-jerk reactions, the way we perceive comments, and those throwaway phrases we mutter under our breath. It can be something as big and encompassing as, "I'm not good enough for him." It can be as casual as, "Oh shit, forgot to drop my rent in the mail — I'm an idiot." Self-talk is the things we say over and over again until they become automatic. It's the story we tell ourselves about ourselves.  

I spent my entire conscious life telling myself the same story: You are fat. You don't know how to eat properly. You are wholly unloveable. 

I don't believe that story anymore. Yet, every day, my brain still tells it: Once upon a time, you totally looked like a manatee

So, I decided to challenge myself to something radical — something that set off my own new-age alarm bells. But, if my mind was going to keep up this nasty talk, then I would just have to talk back to it. I would take the affirmation challenge.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
I'd always thought affirmations as a flimsy concept. I mean, could you really talk yourself into change? Maybe you could say the words, "I am happy" until you felt better, but wasn't that a temporary fix? There's a difference between being in a good mood and achieving genuine happiness. 

Then, a few years ago, I took a workshop with Gabrielle Bernstein, a spiritual life coach and speaker. I was frankly surprised when the topic of affirmations came up and she agreed with me, saying that "Some folks throw affirmations over their problems without getting to the root cause of their discomfort." Right, I thought. You've got to get in there and sit with the bad feelings. Then she added that, on the other hand, there are those of us who just don't want to let go.

Busted. 

I wanted to let go, now. I could make all the flip remarks about this hippie-dippy happy talk, but I couldn't ignore all the un-happy chatter going on in my mind — and its very real effect on me. So, for two days, I tried to note down each instance of negative self-talk, particularly as it related to my body:

My stomach is huge and sticking out.
I need to lose weight.
I shouldn't eat that.
I'm a compulsive eater.
My chin is jiggling. 
I am disgusting.


It was astonishing to see the garbage thoughts that still lingered in my brain, even after all this work. It wasn't just about my gross body, either. I'd look at a slice of bread and think, three points. Apples: zero points!  "Think" isn't even the right word. When I actually thought about the bread and apples, I recognized them for what they were: food. But, before I could form a conscious thought, my brain jumped in to badmouth it. My brain was talking shit about everything. 

After I'd made a long list of negative self-talk, I bought myself a snazzy new notebook and set out to turn each of these thoughts into some sort of affirmative statement. It went...okay. My chin is jiggling became my chin is part of my face. My stomach is huge became my stomach evolves with my life. What?

The first round read like the writings of a stern grandparent who loves her grandkids but just can't say it. Eventually, though, I got the hang of it. After a few drafts, I broke through into full-blown, self-help-y affirmations: 

I am great as I am. 
I eat nourishing and satisfying food.
I am capable and confident.
I am worthy.

The best part, I realized, was it was all true. This was who I was on a pretty good day. These were the things a friend might remind me of on a bad day. Now, I was going to remind myself, every day, and see what happened.
Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
It's a five-minute walk from my apartment to the subway. Each morning, I left my house with the snazzy new notebook in hand and spent those five minutes saying the affirmations aloud. (If someone passed me in the street, I just said them a little quieter.) I noticed a funny thing happen. Normally, when you say a phrase over and over again, it begins to lose its meaning. But, the more I said these things, the more true they felt. Hey, I thought. I really am worthy. Huh!

By the time I got to the subway, I'd be in a pretty great mood, what with all this worthiness. I'd pick up my breakfast thinking of how nourishing and satisfying it would be, then get to work believing myself more capable and confident. 

To be clear: It wasn't perma-joy. If anything, this affirmation process helped me see just how loud and powerful that old story in my head still is. It forced me to seek out all the mean, old thoughts I have about myself and write them down. Seeing them written out, even in this post, is a little bit scary and very sad. I shed some tears over that list and expect there are more to come. But, that's okay. Crying doesn't make me a depressive lunatic any more than a glance in the mirror makes me a manatee.
When I begin the day with these affirmations, I start off on the right foot. It's my way of reminding myself that not only do I love myself, but loving myself is a choice. To expect unconditional self-respect and body positivity out of nowhere is a wildly unrealistic expectation. You need to decide to do it and then do it. Or, at least, I do.

I emailed Gabrielle, who'd just released her own deck of affirmation cards, to get her take on topic. "We need to get into the practice of being kinder to ourselves, because we're the only ones listening," she reminded me. "Your happiness is a choice you make."

Of course, the affirmation routine wasn't a cure-all. Inevitably, something not-amazing would happen during the day and I'd have an automatic negative thought. That's just what happens when you're a human with a life. But, what I realized was that it's not really about eradicating all negative self-talk. It's about starting the conversation, on my own terms. 

And, on that note, I have an announcement to make! On June 20, I will be joining another conversation with a host of incredible women at The Curvy Con here in New York City. Hosted by Chastity Garner and CeCe Olisa, The Curvy Con is a day-long celebration of body positivity — and a major plus-size shopping event. I'll be sitting on panels alongside kick-ass ladies like Gabi Gregg, Nadia Aboulhosn, and Amber Riley to talk about fitness, style, dating, confidence, and lots more. Get a ticket and come hang with us!


The Anti-Diet Project is an ongoing series about intuitive eating, rational fitness, and body positivity. You can follow my journey on Twitter and Instagram at @mskelseymiller or #antidietproject (hashtag your own Anti-Diet moments, too!). Got a question — or your own Anti-Diet story to tell? Email me at kelsey.miller@refinery29.com.
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