How to End Negative Self-Talk

Reject Dieting End Negative Self-Talk

The very first step to eating intuitively or mindfully is to reject the diet mentality.

It might sound like the easiest thing in the world to stop your diet, but for many people this first step can be among the most challenging. This is because while clearing diet books off your shelf is simple, it can take more effort to clear diet thoughts from your mind.

Years of dieting warps our internal compass about what foods and behaviors are good and bad. Recognizing the harm that diets cause, both emotionally and physically, and committing to eating intuitively is sometimes not enough to reorient the way we subconsciously think about food. As a result, many people who consciously choose to stop dieting and engage in mindful eating continue to behave as if they are on a diet: counting calories, eating only at set times of the day, or avoiding “bad” foods.

In their book, Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works, authors Evelyn Tibole and Elyse Resch describe these behaviors as “pseudo dieting.”[i] This sort of unconscious, restrictive behavior is the result of an ingrained diet mentality and indicates the continuation of negative “self-talk.”

How we speak to ourselves:

You know that the core tenant of mindful eating is to learn to listen to and respect the signals your body gives you. An important counterpart to this idea, however, is to also listen to your internal thought patterns or “self-talk.”

Self-talk is the combination of emotions and thoughts you have throughout the day about who you are and what you’re doing. On diets, self-talk is often highly critical because it dieting usually arises from self-criticism. Thoughts like “I’m fat,” “I’m lazy,” “I have no self-control,” lead dieters to have a negative opinion of themselves and their bodies. Research has shown that this cycle of negativity, in addition to being psychologically damaging, actually diminishes peoples’ ability to make positive changes and lose weight.[ii]

Even after you’ve recognized that dieting is harmful, this pattern of negative self-talk created by the diet mentality can sabotage your efforts to listen to your body’s internal cues. But, the good news is there is a way to stop negative self-talk. In this post you’ll learn how to recognize your inner critic and silence it for good.

Step #1 Face your Fears about Not Dieting

For many of us the idea of going diet free is scary. Common sources of anxiety about not dieting include:

·         A worry that not dieting will lead to over-eating;

·         Not knowing how to eat without diet rules;

·         Feeling like without diets you will be out of control.

If you have these feelings of fear, understand that they are entirely reasonable: if you’ve spent years bouncing between diets that didn’t work, you haven’t yet learned how to rely on your body’s internal cues to make food decisions. But, you should also recognize that such anxiety is the result of dieting.

Fear of over-eating: In reality, being on a diet causes many of the ill-effects people fear will occur when they are not dieting. For example, restrictive eating habits cause you to become overly hungry, depleting your self-control, and triggering over-eating.

Not knowing the rules: Your body knows exactly what it needs and when it needs to eat. The fear that, without a diet’s guidelines, you’ll won’t know how to eat is a fear we’ve been taught with a lifetime of dieting. Diets teach us to rely exclusively on external measurements (e.g. calories or eating schedules) to decide how to eat. But, if we learn to listen and hear our internal signals once again, your body will tell you all you need to know.   

Feeling out of control: Perhaps the most insidious fear diet-culture has cultivated is the idea that unless we are on a diet we are “out of control.” This is the root cause of what [name] and [name] refer to as the “diet dilemma.” We start diets, often, as a means to lose weight. Inevitably, by forcing us to restrict our food intake, we stimulate cravings and reduced self-control, binge or over-eat, gain weight, and feel even more reliant on dieting to help us lose weight again. Essentially, dieting is the cause of our feelings of uncontrolled eating, not the solution.

Though it might be daunting at first, know that with time and practice, you can learn to interpret internal cues and listen to what your body needs.


Image via Tibole E, Resch E.  Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works .

Image via Tibole E, Resch E. Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works.

Step #2: Recognize Negative Self-Talk

Once you’ve addressed any internal conflict you might have about ending dieting, you might find you still have an inner diet critic: that little voice that criticizes you for eating “bad” foods and praises you for diet-like behaviors. In order to silence this inner critic you must first recognize your patterns of self-talk. Below are simple strategies to recognize and begin to change how you speak to yourself:

Catch your inner critic: Building an awareness of your own self-talk is an essential first step that can help you gain distance between your inner voice and reality. Throughout the day, check in with yourself and how you speak to yourself. Don’t judge your thoughts, but observe what types of comments you tell yourself, how often these thoughts are negative, whether the thoughts are unreasonable or over-exaggerating, and where the thoughts might be coming from? 

Challenge your inner critic: Recognize that thoughts and feelings don’t always reflect the reality of a situation. When you hear your inner critic, evaluate if it is based on over-generalizations or short-term thinking. This sort of thinking can turn a single misstep into a catastrophic failure when, in reality, it is a minor mistake that is outweighed by your overall progress.

Modify self-talk: You might not be able to fully silence your inner critic, but you can balance it with positive self-talk. If you notice that your thoughts are overly negative, try to focus on positive aspects of yourself and your behavior. For example, think about how you’ve improved over the long-term and recognize that small steps can led to overall positive change.


Step #3: Create Encouraging Self-Talk

The goal in changing the way you speak to yourself is not to replace an overly negative inner voice with an unrealistically positive one. Rather, the goal is create a more realistic and neutral inner voice. In this your inner critic can actually begin to provide you with feedback that may help you understand yourself better and make positive changes in the future.[iii]

As children, we are given a chance to make mistakes and try again. For some reason, however, once we reach adulthood many of seem to think that we should always be perfect. That’s just not how it works: we all mess up sometimes. Negative self-talk is, not only unnecessary, but can stop us from trying again or making changes to improve. Below are some steps you can take to start changing negative self-talk into a positive, encouraging inner voice.

Steps to encouraging positive self-talk:

Stop “black and white” thinking: Often, negative self-talk arises from black and white thinking: thoughts like “I failed,” “I’m a terrible person,” and “I will never accomplish what I want,” are defeatist and encourage giving up. Instead, when faced with negative thoughts, think something like “that didn’t work,” or “I can do better.”   

Change demands to suggestions: Negative thinking often uses demanding words like “always,” “can’t,” or “must.” Instead, try to change your internal dialogue so that you use more neutral words such as “could” or “may.”

Be compassionate to yourself: Try to speak with yourself as you would a close friend or loved one. If you mess up don’t call yourself “stupid” or “lazy” or any other horrible thing. Instead, recognize that everyone makes mistakes, evaluate what might have caused your error, forgive yourself, and concentrate on succeeding in the future.

For more tips to combat negative self-talk, check out this video from Psych Minded.


[i] Tibole E, Resch E. Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works.  2nd ed. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Griffin; 2007.

[ii] Carels RA, Burmeister JM, Koball AM, et al. A randomized trial comparing two approaches to weight loss: Differences in weight loss maintenance. J Health Psychol. 2014;19(2): 296-311. doi: 10.1177/1359105312470156.

[iii] Campbell B. Changing Self-Talk: A Cognitive Therapy Primer. CFIDS & Fibromyalgia website. Accessed October 8, 2018.