You’ve heard it before: that nagging voice in your head, inserting little jabs: You’re such a screw up. You said you’d eat healthy this week and now you’ve blown it. Might as well give up trying. My guess is at times, you’ve heard similar jabs about your work, your intelligence, your body, your face, your personality, your clothes — pretty much everything about you.
Meet: your inner critic. It’s that critical voice in your head that judges and demeans you, making you feel bad, wrong, inadequate, worthless, and guilty. Unchecked, it can lead to problems like low self-esteem, disorders, and depression.
I’ve struggled with a very loud inner critic for years. It drowns out positive messages and instead tells me I shouldn’t have eaten that chocolate bar, my nose is too big, I’m an uncaring friend, my recipes are dreadful, and my writing is unengaging. But guess what: according to experts, we all have an inner critic. The fact that the inner critic is a thing in itself makes me relieved. Nearly every human on the planet struggles with inner negativity towards themselves. I don’t know about you, but I find that comforting.
So what does this have to do with food and health? Everything, I would argue. I believe that for many, the inner critic is a massive obstacle to the ability to incorporate nutritious foods into our diet and maintain a positive relationship with food. Imagine all of the negative messages the inner critic might try on someone looking to make a change to a healthy lifestyle (which you likely have heard yourself). It’s no wonder we sneak into the kitchen for ice cream then criticize ourselves into a guilty mess, miss working out one night and stop it all together, or bomb making a healthy meal and resolve we can’t cook.
There are many theories on how to combat the inner critic, but what I’d first like to emphasize is if you are wrestling with inner negativity, you are not alone. We all struggle with an inner critic that seeks to paralyze and destroy instead of build up and encourage! The most widely accepted methods for addressing this inner voice can be summarized in two simple steps:
- Awareness. Simply be aware that the inner critic exists and start to hear that voice for what it is.
- Self-compassion. Listen to the inner critic and determine whether the message you’ve heard is true. If it’s a lie, replace it with a positive statement of truth about yourself.
It sounds deceptively simple, but I’ve found this method to work incredibly well in practice. I use a buddy system with my husband Alex, who has become a pro at calling out the lies of the inner critic and helping me to replace them with positive statements about myself, my work, and my ability to make healthy choices.
While I don’t know many of you reading this personally, I do know this: you are valuable and loved–no matter what you look like, what your personality is, how smart you are, or what decisions you’ve made. And you can make healthy choices, even if yesterday you ate too much ice cream or obsessively ate chips or skipped your daily exercise. There is no need for perfection. Strive to do your best today, and if you fail, there is room tomorrow to try again. To me, those words are like a sigh of relief — they give me room to be human. And replacing the lies of the inner critic with positive, self-affirming words were a crucial step for me on the journey towards health.
How about you? Do you have an inner critic? What gets in the way of a healthy approach to food? We’d love to hear from you!
More on the Inner Critic (used as references)
Bust Your Inner Critic – 8 Simple Tools (Tara Mohr)
Silencing the Inner Critic – The Power of Self-Compassion (GoodTherapy.org)
Critical Inner Voice (PsychAlive.org)
Why We Need to Have Compassion for Our Inner Critic (Dr. Kristin Neff)
More Questions About the Inner Critic (Psychology Today)
The Inner Critic: Accepting Ourselves (Kali Munro)