Done with Dieting Episode #24: Why Affirmations are BS

Have you ever had the experience where you’ve said to a friend, “OMG! I’ve gained so much weight. I feel so disgusting.” and your friend responds with something like, “You shouldn’t say that. You’re not disgusting. You’re beautiful!”?

I mean, we don’t necessarily want our friends to agree with a statement like that, but on the other hand, “You’re not disgusting. You’re beautiful!” feels inauthentic at best.

You may even wonder – I know that this body love/self-love thing is something that I need to get behind – so many folks talk about how it’s helpful to treating myself better – and I know that my self-esteem is low. But I really can’t get behind the whole “my body is beautiful” thought process.

Maybe my body is the exception to that rule.

Body like, love, and acceptance is available to all of us.

We’ve just been doing it wrong.

In Episode 24 I will explain why affirmations don’t work when it comes to strongly held beliefs, and what to do instead. 

And don’t worry – you won’t have to stand in front of a mirror and say repeatedly, “I love my body”

Are you loving the podcast, but arent sure where to start? click here to get your copy of the Done with Dieting Podcast Roadmap Its a fantastic listening guide that pulls out the exact episodes that will get you moving towards optimal health.

If you want to take the work we’re doing here on the podcast and go even deeper, you need to join the Feel Good Sisterhood - my group coaching program for women in midlife who are done with dieting, but still want to feel good! The Feel Good Sisterhood is open for enrollment, so click here to discover if group coaching is a right fit for you and your goals.

I am so excited to hear what you all think about the podcast – if you have any feedback, please let me know! You can leave me a rating and review in Apple Podcasts, which helps me create an excellent show and helps other women who want to get off the diet roller coaster find it, too.

What You’ll Learn from this Episode

  • Why affirmations, the way that we’ve been taught to do them, don’t work?
  • Why do you want to change your relationship with your body? (hint: it’s so that you will actually start treating it better – like a friend instead of an enemy)
  • How to change what you think about your body without using affirmations.

Listen to the Full Episode:

Full Episode Transcript:

You are listening to the Done with Dieting Podcast Episode number 24.

Hi, I’m Elizabeth Sherman, former corporate high tech executive turn life and weight loss coach. But it wasn’t that long ago that I was searching for that perfect diet, the one that would finally be the golden ticket to lose the weight that I so desired.

Fast forward past tons of failed diet attempts, exercise fads and painful lessons learned, and although I still have not reached the state of Nirvana, body love, my relationship with food exercise in my body is infinitely better than it was not only when I started this journey, but even as recently as three years ago.

The journey that has allowed me to ditch my scale, stop logging my food and exercise, eat food that I didn’t prepare and easily maintain my weight – something that I never thought was possible for me.

I created the Done with Dieting podcast to give you simple, easy to do and sustainable strategies to help you do the same without all of the drama that I went through.

If you’re a woman who’s looking to create a better relationship with food and her body, get off the diet roller coaster and free up a bunch of headspace spent on calories, how you should look what you should eat and beating yourself up for not doing what you think you should be doing. You are in the right place.

Let’s get started.

Hello, hello, hello, and welcome to the done with dieting podcast.

Today, we are talking about affirmations and why affirmations are a bunch of BS. I know and when I think about affirmations, maybe I’m telling my age, but I think of that old Stuart Smalley get on Saturday night live with Al Franken. Where he would look in the mirror and lovingly say to himself, you are good enough, you are smart enough, and gosh, darn it, people like you.

And you know, so I think that affirmations got a really bad rap for that whole idea. And we feel so inauthentic when we look in the mirror and we say loving things to ourselves. Because many of us have terrible, terrible thoughts going on in our brains about what we actually think about ourselves.

One of the most common things, well, that I used to think, and that many of my clients think is, if people really knew what was going on in my head. They would think that I was a terrible person, or they wouldn’t like me, or in fact they would hate me.

And so, feeling like we need to cover that piece of us up and not allow it out into the world for fear that if we do, then our brain goes to this place of we’re going to die. Sleeping in a van, down by the river, all alone, without anyone else around us, right? That everyone is going to abandon us if they found out the real us.

It’s one of the things that’s pervasive in our culture or us as humans, that we all think that we are not enough as we are. And so, we need to go above and beyond in order to prove who we are. And this comes out in different ways, depending on the person, but I digress.

One of the tools that I use within my coaching practice is what’s called the think- feel- act cycle. Meaning that the reason that we feel anything, the reason that we have emotion is because of our thoughts.

And some of the thoughts that we have, our conscious thoughts and other thoughts that we have, our subconscious thoughts or unconscious. They could be beliefs that we didn’t really realize that we had, they could be thoughts that are just so fully ingrained. That they feel like facts, or they could just be thoughts that have been handed down to us from parents or teachers or other people that we’ve interacted with over the years.

These thoughts or beliefs that we have really color the way that we view the world. And they also color the way that we interact with people. And so, these thoughts that we have, whether they are intentional or unintentional thoughts, create feelings within our body, and our feelings, our emotions impact what it is that we do.

So, in other words, and I’ve used this example before, that when we feel motivated, then we go out and do the things that we want to do in order to accomplish the goal. And when we don’t feel motivated, when we feel blocked or overwhelmed or any sort of like not motivated feeling. Then we don’t do the things that we’re supposed to do in order to get to our goal, okay?

Now, One of the really cool things about the think- feel- act cycle, is that we have the opportunity to actively change our thoughts. And what’s really interesting about this is that, if you had told me this before, I really understood and started using the think- feel- act cycle myself.

I probably wouldn’t have necessarily believed you. I was like, “ah, I don’t know,” thoughts or kind of thoughts. We don’t really choose them. They just happen, right? They kind of happen to us. And I want to offer that thoughts are completely optional because we change our opinions about circumstances all the time.

Like think about, when you are dating, and you meet someone new, and you think that they’re like just the bee’s knees. And then as you get to know that person a little bit better, or situations reveal who that person actually is. You start to change your opinion about them. Where you were like, “oh my God, this person is amazing, I love them, I want to spend the rest of my life with them.”

Eventually, you may get to the point where you’re like, “I never want to see this person again,” right? They’re the same person, it’s just that our thoughts about them have changed. And so, the same thing is true with lots of different things, right?

Like we get a car, and we think this car is amazing or this house is amazing. And then, as we get used to the car or we get used to the house. Then we’re kind of like, “yeah, this is fine, it’s okay, it gets me from point a to point B. It’s a roof over my head, it’s fine.” And then eventually we start looking for something better.

So again, the house hasn’t changed, the car hasn’t changed, but our opinions about the object have changed. And so therefore we know that these thoughts are completely optional. One of my favorite examples of this is when we stand on the scale.

When we stand on the scale and we see the number looking back at us, we often think, “oh my God, that number is terrible.” I’m fat, I’m not worthy, I’m never going to lose weights, all of those things.

But our thoughts about our weight are completely optional. You may not agree with this but stick with me. Most of my clients, who I give this example to they are not at their highest weight. And so, let’s say that my client comes to me, and they say, ” yeah, I stood on the scale today and my weight was 175,” and I’ll ask them, “how does that make you feel?”

And they’ll tell me that it makes them feel terrible by that they’re never going to be successful, and they feel defeated, and they feel unmotivated, they feel discouraged.

And so, I’ll walk them through the process of noticing that the thought that this weight is a terrible weight, is completely optional, that they have the opportunity to think better thoughts about their weight. Because when we think better thoughts about our weights, chances are that we’re going to treat ourselves better.

Now, here’s how I do that. Most of my clients who come to me have been heavier at one point. And so, I will walk them through the process of asking them what was your highest weight? And let’s say that their highest weight that they report is 230 pounds.

So, I will bring them back to when they weighed 230 pounds. And I’ll say to them, okay, I want you to imagine that you’re 230 pounds and one day you step on the scale and the weight, the number that you see on the scale is 175, your current weight, how would you feel?

And they say, I would feel amazing. I would feel so incredibly happy. And it’s like, okay, so the number on the scale is exactly the same. But your thoughts about the number have completely changed where months ago you would have been happy. Today, it’s not enough, right? And that is just our brains, keeping us safe. I know it doesn’t seem like it’s keeping us safe, but it is. Our brains are wired to be very, very negative.

Most of us have grown up with the idea that if we beat ourselves up enough, that then we will comply. That if we beat ourselves up enough, if we talk poorly to ourselves, that that’s the only way to get us to do something that we really want to do.

That self-compassion isn’t going to create the result that we want. That if we have compassion for ourselves, then we’ll be okay with our weight. And if we’re okay with our weight, then we won’t want to change.

But I’m going to offer to you today that you can still want to change and still be compassionate with yourself at the same time. Those two things do not have to be mutually exclusive.

Where I want to go with this today is the idea of being able to actively change our thoughts. Now when we actively want to change our thoughts, we think about affirmations, right? We think about gazing into the mirror and saying loving things to ourselves. Like, you are enough, and you are amazing. And quite honestly, all of those things are 100% true.

However, I want to suggest that there’s a better way of approaching, improving your relationship with food, improving your relationship with your body, improving your relationship with yourself, and getting yourself to do things that you want to do, just not in the moment.

Now, as I mentioned before, our brains are very narcissistic and they’re also very negative. And if you’ve never been presented the idea that you can actively change your thoughts. Then, this whole idea might be something that is very foreign to you, and that is very new to you.

And so, if you’ve never tried to change your thoughts before, your brain has been just going down this rabbit hole of negativity. And it has a lot of practice at being negative. Now, in addition to being negative and in addition to being narcissistic, meaning that everything is about us, right?

The brain also really likes to be right. And what I mean by that is that whenever we have a thought or a belief, we go out and our brain will seek evidence of further proof that we are correct.

So, has that ever happened to you? Where, like I remember in college having pregnancy scares and when I thought that maybe I was pregnant, that all of a sudden, I would see babies everywhere. That I would see babies in advertising, I would see babies out in the world, and it was like, “oh my God, where are all these babies coming from?”

And so, the same thing is true with everything that once we have this belief, then all of a sudden, we start to seek evidence that this belief is true. And it just further solidifies, that we are correct.

So, we have this belief that we aren’t good enough or that we’re fat or that food makes us fat. That looking at food just makes us gain weight, or maybe we think that we’re not even allowed to have certain foods. We have desire for delicious food, and then we see all of this delicious food around us, and it just furthers the evidence that we are out of control.

So anyway, that is cognitive bias. And cognitive bias works on the negative side, but here’s the thing is that cognitive bias also works on the positive spin as well. I used to believe that people were terrible. I know it’s a terrible thought for a life coach to have, right? This was years ago, but I have actively changed my thoughts about people, and I love people now, I really do.

And so, I just want to offer to you that you can change your thoughts. And when I now believe that people are amazing. I now go out and my brain seeks evidence of why I should love people. It’s possible, you might not think it’s possible, but it actually is.

And so, what I want to present to you today is how to actually do those steps and what pitfalls you’re going to have and how to get around them.

Now before we start changing our thoughts. I want to give a definition of what a thought is. Now, thoughts are different than facts. So, if you cannot argue something inside of a court of law, then it is a thought. And so, some thoughts are, I am fat, I need to lose weight, now those are not facts. I need to lose weight, or I am fat, those are thoughts. And I know what you might be thinking. You might be thinking, “oh, but Elizabeth, I do need to lose weight, or I am fat.”

And what I might offer to you is the idea that there are some people who may not think that you are fat or that you need to lose weight. And so therefore, it is not a fact, if something is universally held as true, then it becomes a fact. But if it is not universally held as true, then it is not a fact.

Facts are things like, it is 80 degrees right; the sun is shining; there are clouds in the sky; it is raining, things like that, those are facts. If we can say that something is universally held true, then it’s a fact, otherwise, it’s a thoughts. And again, all thoughts are optional.

Now here’s the thing, you may want to keep some of your thoughts. That’s totally fine, 100%, okay? You don’t have to give up all of your thoughts.

But what I want to suggest in this episode is that there may be some thoughts or beliefs that you have, that aren’t serving you, that aren’t improving your life. Thoughts like, I’m fat, I need to lose weight. I’m not good enough, I’m not worthy. Those thoughts are only keeping you stuck and they’re not helpful.

And so, if we can change those, if we can prove to your brain that they are untrue. Then, maybe you can have a better quality of life if you want it okay?

So, if you’re still with me, then, let’s do this. How do I do this?

The first step is noticing your thoughts or notice what your limiting beliefs are. And when we talk about limiting beliefs, what we’re talking about are those things that we believe to be held as true, that are limiting us from accomplishing whatever it is that we want to accomplish.

So, things like I hate my body, or I don’t have enough money or I’m not good enough. Those are all limiting beliefs, okay? See how they don’t serve our greater purpose in becoming the type of person that we want to become.

Now, many of the beliefs that we have were installed, ” I use that word intentionally,” were installed into our brains as young children. So, our brains within the first seven years of our lives, weren’t fully developed. And so, within those first seven years of our lives, our subconscious brain is taking everything in and deciding what is true and what is not true.

And we are often being imprinted with thoughts from adults in our lives, people that we trust. And so be aware that a lot of the thoughts that you have, a lot of the beliefs, the limiting beliefs that you have today were probably installed by your parents or teachers or clergy or adults or people who are close to you, who really didn’t know any different.

As children, we really didn’t have a choice about what to think. But now that we’re adults, we can decide whether we want to keep those beliefs or not. Just like I was talking about with the belief that people were terrible. I didn’t want to believe that anymore, and so I actively set out to change it.

And so again, the beliefs that we have, our thoughts. Color the way that we experience the world. The way that we experience our relationships and everything around us.

I love the example that if I am talking to a crowd of 100 people. There are going to be people in that audience. Some of them are going to be like, “oh my God, Elizabeth, you’re the most amazing person in the world.” Some people are going to be like, ” Ugh, I can’t stand her.” And then there are going to be other people who are like, “meh, she’s okay. Take it or leave it,” right? You might be one of those people who are like, “oh, I don’t really like your message.” It’s totally fine, I am the same person.

But how people experience me is through their lens. How you are experiencing me is through the lens of your past experiences; through the beliefs that you have; through the thoughts of yourself; and how other people act in the world, okay?

And so, things, people, events, circumstances, those are all neutral. And so, we get to decide how we want to think about those things.

Now, at this point, I want to bring up the idea of toxic positivity. When something bad happens to us, we often hear the advice of you create your own happiness or happiness is a choice or everything happens for a reason. Some people will even say things like stay positive or look on the bright side.

And I want to suggest that changing your thoughts about things isn’t being positive all the time. It’s choosing thoughts that serve us. And sometimes those thoughts that I just mentioned, so just stay positive or look at the silver lining. That’s not helpful, especially when we’re experiencing disappointment or grief or sadness.

When people say those things to us, it’s because they don’t feel comfortable with our negative emotion. They don’t feel comfortable in their own negative emotion. And so therefore, they’re having a hard time tolerating it in us. And so, they want us to change because they’re feeling uncomfortable, it’s totally okay, 100%.

But those thoughts of everything happens for a reason isn’t exactly helpful and being positive or having the idea of good vibes only is sometimes actually unhelpful and it’s not helpful.

So, let’s talk about situations of why we would want to change our thoughts and why we might not want to change our thoughts. So again, We want to change our thoughts when we understand that the beliefs that we have. When we can identify the suggestions that our emotional or our lower brain is offering us are unhelpful.

They’re keeping us stuck. They’re keeping us from being able to move forward. They’re keeping us small or they’re keeping us just being unable to go out and realize our greatness. And so, thoughts that aren’t helpful might be like, I’m afraid they’re going to judge me, or I need to do this in order to keep them happy.

People pleasing is a huge idea that I need to do this, otherwise they won’t like me. So those are the types of thoughts that really are not serving us. We think that they’re serving us, right? Because if that person doesn’t like me, that I’m going to be rejected and therefore I’m going to end up in a van sleeping down by the river.

But I’m going to offer that people pleasing is not helpful because then we really aren’t showing up as our authentic selves. But sometimes we are going to have negative thoughts or negative feelings and we don’t want to get out of them. For example, I think about showing up to a funeral and telling the grieved ones, ” oh, everything happens for a reason,” like, right? That is not helpful.

And when someone dies when our dog dies or when something sad happens in the world. We want to be able to be sad about it. We want to grieve; we want to feel terrible about George Floyd’s murder. I want to be outraged with what our political leaders are doing in terms of raging war on women’s bodies.

I want to be disappointed if I didn’t get the job that I wanted. I want to be frustrated if there’s a delay on our house construction. And I also want to be completely stunned and frustrated that our political leaders aren’t doing anything about the countless mass murderers that happen all around the United States on a consistent basis, right? Like all of those feelings are natural and what we should be feeling.

So again, I don’t want you to feel like we need to get out of negative emotion right away. There are sometimes that we want to stay there. There are going to be times when you want to feel outrage, you want to feel grief, you want to feel sadness, and it’s totally okay. But when you feel stuck, then you want to be able to do something about it.

Now, this is actually a really important distinction because when I first started learning about fault work, all of a sudden I was like, “oh my gosh, if I can just change my thoughts, then, I never have to have another problem again,” right? That all of a sudden life is going to be rainbows and butterflies and daisies.

But the truth is, is that having negative emotion is part of the human experience. We are always going to have 50% negative emotion, so that we can then have 50% positive emotion. We need the contrast in our lives, if we don’t have the negative, we can’t have the positive. And so, when it comes to our body, right?

Because, and that’s why we’re here is when I have the thought of, “oh, my God. I’m fat.” If we were to say that to a friend, our friend would say something like, “oh, don’t say that you’re not fat, you’re beautiful.” And so, if we were to try on that thought of, I am beautiful, the reason that affirmations don’t work is because we need the new thoughts to be believable.

If the new thoughts aren’t believable and we try to say them, what happens is our brain just shuts off. It just shuts down and it doesn’t allow us to receive the new thought, okay? So, if you have the belief that, “I’m not enough, I’m terrible, I’m just awful, I’m fat that dah, dah, dah.”

And you try to put on top of that, the thought of I am worthy, I am beautiful. So oftentimes what we’ll try to do is we’ll try to take the thought that we have, and we’ll try to flip it around to the positive. What happens is the brain just shuts down. And so, that’s why affirmations are a bunch of BS. What we need to do instead is do something called thought ladders.

Now, here’s what it looks like, visualize a ladder in your brain right now. And on that ladder, at the bottom rung is your current thought. So, one of the thoughts that you might have if we’re going to use the example of body image. You might have the thought; I hate my body. And at the top of the ladder, we have our desired thought what we would really love to aspire to, which might be the opposite of, I hate my body, which is I love my body, right?

And so, if you currently hate your body and you say to yourself in the mirror, I love my body. Again, your brain is just going to shut down and it’s not going to believe it. And it’s going to laugh at you, it’s going to be like, “ha-ha! Good luck with that one,” right?

So, what we need to do is we need to use the rungs on the ladder to incrementally go up the ladder to a more positive thought. And when we go from negative to positive, we have to do what’s called pass through neutral. Meaning that we have to go through a neutral state in order to get there.

So, if my bottom rung of my thought ladder is I hate my body and the top rung is I love my body. What we need to do is we need to create statements that are incrementally better, than what we’re currently believing.

But again, these new thoughts need to be believable. So, for example, if I have the thought, I hate my body. A better thought is my body is not how I wish it was. So, notice that it’s not a positive thought by any means, but it’s a lot better than I hate my body. And it might be a believable thought too.

So again, we need to make these new thoughts believable. So, when I have the thought, I hate my body. What I’m going to do instead is practice my new thought. My body is not how I wish it was.

Now ,the next incrementally better thought might be, my body doesn’t look like other women’s bodies. Again, it’s not a positive thought, but it’s not necessarily totally negative. Or my body is different than other women’s bodies and do you see how they’re going more neutral a more neutral thought is this is the body that I have. Now, once these thoughts become unbelievable, we kind of want to stop.

So, the next thought is my body is capable or my body is incredible. My body can do amazing things, or I love my body. So, do you see how we’re incrementally getting better within those statements. If there’s a statement that is almost quite ” ah, you’re not quite there yet,” but you think that you can get there?

What we can use is something that’s called, “bridging phrases.” And what bridging phrases are, they are statements that we can prepend to any of these new thoughts to make them believable. Bridging phrases or things like maybe, or it’s possible that I’m seeking evidence, or I’m considering.

So, for example, if my body is capable is a thought that you’re almost on board with, but you’re not quite there, maybe try. I’m considering that my body is capable. You see how it softens it and it makes it a little bit more believable.

So again, if the thought is totally unbelievable, then these bridging phrases aren’t going to work. So, for example, it’s possible that I love my body probably doesn’t feel any more believable than I love my body.

It needs to be afraid that you’re really super close to believing. We can also use who’s this laddering system when it comes to food. You know, one of the things that I talk about a lot with my clients is getting rid of the judgment that we have about food.

So, you may have a lot of beliefs about what good foods are and what bad foods are, and that if you eat bad foods, that you are bad, or that you’re going to gain a bunch of weight and therefore be unworthy, or, you know, we, our brains give us lots of different weird ass thoughts.

So, one of the thoughts that we could have is that ice cream is fattening, or that if I eat ice cream, I will get fat, okay? Now we can actually use laddering thoughts to make ice cream less bad. And the reason that we want to make ice cream less bad is because when things are bad, we desire them more. And if ice cream becomes just a thing, then, it no longer has power over us.

So, here’s how I would ladder ice cream. So, if ice cream is fattening, is the bottom rung. Then the next rung up might be ice cream has more calories than broccoli, it’s a fact. It’s not exactly mind blowing, but it’s a better thought than ice cream is fattening, right?

So, ice cream has like 200 calories per half a cup or whatever it is. Then, a neutral thought might be, I need to be mindful when I eat ice cream. A better thought is I can trust myself not to overeat ice cream and then potentially where we would want to go with that is that ice cream isn’t fattening, or that I can eat ice cream and maintain my weight.

And so do you see how, if I have the thought, if I really believe. That I can eat ice cream and maintain my weight at the same time, or I can eat ice cream and lose weights. Like that could be so freaking powerful. And so that’s why we really want to observe, what thoughts that we’re thinking? What are the suggestions that our emotional or our lower brain is offering us?

And when we do that, we can be more empower of what we are choosing to believe and what we are not choosing to believe. It’s called mind management. And once we can manage our minds, we can do anything, like seriously, it is so freaking powerful this stuff.

Now the cool thing about learning to manage your mind and being able to change your thought process is what I was talking about at the beginning of the episode, cognitive bias. When we start to create better, more helpful beliefs. Our brains actually go out and find evidence to support these new beliefs.

And so, we then have an upward spiral of better thoughts upon better thoughts, upon better thoughts. We become more capable; we become more capable in our relationships; we become more capable around food; we become more confident in our bodies; and we get more stuff done, and this is life-changing stuff, folks.

This is so incredibly cool. In fact, this is the stuff that we are going to be working on in my new group coaching program, which applications are going to start the week of July 19th.

If you’re interested in this group coaching program and learning how to manage your mind, especially when it comes to food and your body and exercise and everything else in your life, because this stuff is transferrable.

If we talk about it with body, we can talk about it with money, we can talk about it with relationships. And all of those things, all of those different aspects of our life impact our ability to take care of ourselves.

So, if this is something that you want to do better with, if you want to take better care of yourself, I’m going to invite you to get on the waitlist of my group coaching program and how you do that is either go to the show notes and there’ll be a link there or you can go to, all one word, and that will put you on the wait list.

Again, I’ll be accepting applications the week of July 19th. And we are going to start the group coaching program the week of August 2nd, alright?

So that’s all I have for you today. I hope to try some of these new techniques because seriously, it will change your life.

And that’s what this podcast is all about is changing your diet, changing your belief in yourself from the inside out.

Have an amazing day everyone, I will talk to you next time. Bye. Bye.

Hey, thanks for listening.

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See you next week.

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