Ten years ago, I remember streaming podcast after podcast on how to improve confidence and self-esteem. I was de-freaking-termined to stop feeling insecure about my body.
And I remember feeling like a failure after listening to these podcasts, because the advice was hard to put into practice. It seemed like every suggestion offered the same advice: “Just stop caring what other people think of you.” Yeah, not helpful — because if I could’ve, I would’ve!
I’ve come a long way since then, and I’d like to share some insight from my journey. While I don’t think I have it all “figured out,” I think I’ve discovered some helpful pieces that may fit your puzzle too.
[In case you’re new, this is the home of Psycho-Spiritual Wellness: a path to stop compulsive eating rooted in psychology and spirituality, not dieting.]
Let’s dive right in — and I promise I won’t tell you to just stop caring what other people think because that’s not the root issue!
A Common Cause of Low Self-Confidence
One of the most common — and most overlooked! — causes of poor self-esteem is the act of dieting. I repeat: dieting is often the root cause of feeling insecure about your body.
This might seem backwards, because many of us want to lose weight so that we can feel more confident, and that’s one way we remain stuck.
Going on diet after diet diminishes body confidence. The act of restricting foods that you enjoy from your diet drains your self-worth and self-esteem. But how?
How Dieting Causes Low Self-Esteem
Take a moment to think about what goes on in your head when you’re dieting. Specifically, what are you thinking late at night?
Surely, you aren’t patting yourself on the back for being a kind, caring, compassionate human that day. Instead, you might be lying there trying to resist your urges to get up and eat some potato chips.
[Because, related tangent: making certain foods “off limits” only makes you want them more. That’s part of the psychology behind overeating.]
When you try to stick with a diet, it’s likely that you say some pretty mean things to yourself, especially late at night. You might lie there beating yourself up for being”weak” for wanting potato chips.
[Because, when we restrict our calories, our bodies are wired to crave high-calorie foods to compensate for the famine it believes you’re in.]
Beating yourself up for thinking about food all day only creates more mental chatter around how not-enough you feel. You might even tell yourself that you’re a failure for not figuring out the “weight thing” yet…
Can you see how awful this mental chatter is for your self-esteem?
It’s this negative self-talk that deteriorates our self-esteem and throws our body confidence out the window; and nothing perpetuates that horrid self-talk like dieting. And falling off your diet, and beating yourself up, and hopping back on a diet with high hopes, only to fall off and beat yourself up again.
Spoiler alert: It wasn’t until I finally stopped dieting in August 2016 that my self-esteem and confidence finally began to improve!
How Not-Dieting Helps with Self-Esteem
When I gave up dieting, I did it because I was exhausted from constantly failing at weight loss. I decided to give up dieting for one month, just to see what would happen. And I was surprised to find that I hardly overate — until the last week.
Once I knew the freedom was almost over, “Last Supper Eating Syndrome” kicked in and I began to overeat. And while that sucked, it was a glorious a-ha moment.
I realized that restriction really did lead to binge eating. And once I saw it with my very own eyes, I decided to give up dieting forever. Now, how does this relate to body confidence exactly?
What About “Not Caring What Others Think of You”?
Let’s go back to those early podcasts on self-esteem that asked me to stop caring what other people think. (As if it was some light switch I could just flick on and off.)
I can say with honesty that I still care about what other people think of me. Even though I would love to let go of this pattern, it’s still alive and kicking. But something has shifted…
Even though I sometimes care too much about what other people think, the anxiety is no longer multiplied by my own self-loathing. Meaning, I’m no longer making things harder for myself.
Back when I felt very insecure, I hated my body and the way I looked. When I crossed paths with someone that didn’t approve of me, it put a harsh spotlight on this deep insecurity, and made me feel even more insecure.
I would especially hate it when other people commented on my weight, even if it was a compliment, because it made it even harder to deal when my weight eventually fluctuated.
Fast forward to when I stopped dieting and stopped binge eating as a result: I don’t hate myself anymore. Likely because I’ve stopped calling myself a failure on a regular basis! This shift in self-talk is key.
Self-Talk Is Key for Reestablishing Self-Trust and Confidence
Once I gave up dieting, I stopped lying in bed late at night beating myself up for not achieving my weight loss goals. Instead, I’m thinking about other things.
Instead of striving to reach a certain number in my head, I decided to just listen to my body and let my weight figure itself out. And this comes with major perks!
It creates space and energy for me to deal with people that occasionally don’t approve of me. I didn’t have to master the whole “not caring what other people think” thing before I could heal my deeply insecure wounds and finally start to feel more confident in myself.
Of course I would like to stop caring what other people think, but I didn’t have to master that (incredibly hard) skill before I could stop feeling so insecure about my body.
These days, I have a greater ability to shrug off a moment of disapproval, because I personally think more highly of myself after I stopped dieting and stopped beating myself up day after day. Instead of letting their opinions get to me, I have more energy to remind myself that it’s not about me, it’s about them.
Improving Self-Esteem Through Food Freedom
On the road to recovering from binge eating, I firmly believe that one must stop dieting — because for every restriction, there is an equal and opposite binge. While it can be a scary step, giving up dieting helps improve our self-esteem because our mental chatter improves naturally, and you’ll move onto other things!
That’s the beauty of Psycho-Spiritual Wellness or any other anti-diet approach: when we stop fixating on food, we get to move onto our actual passions and purpose in this world. And thank goodness!
Because nothing boosts confidence even more than making an actual difference in the world and in the lives of others.