Scenario: You walk into a crowded room. People glance at you. You imagine they’re thinking that you’re short, overweight, your shirt is creased, you need a haircut. Reaction: you stoop your shoulders, avoid eye contact and hurry into a corner so that no one notices you.
Now picture another scenario. A stranger walks into a crowded room. You’re in the room. What’s on your mind? She/he thinks I’m short, overweight, my shirt is creased, I need a haircut. Reaction: you stoop your shoulders, avoid eye contact, and you sneak into a corner so that no one notices you.
What you need to realize is that people are more concerned with themselves than they are with you. They are so full of their own insecurities that they don’t have room to criticize you. Why would you have been invited to this occasion if the hosts didn’t want your company? Ask yourself that question carefully. Perhaps you are witty, intelligent, interesting or successful. These are just a few good reasons. Don’t think of your appearance as your only asset. Your attitude is your greatest asset. In future, enter a room with confidence.
I know how lack of self-esteem feels as I went through a slump and lost my confidence three times in my life. First, as a student, and twice in unhappy relationships. Each time I couldn’t see a way out.
Studying and writing for my final exams for a bachelor of science degree in South Africa made for a stressful time. Sick and tired of studying, I ate my way through it. I gained weight, none of my clothes fit me anymore and my self-esteem was very low. At this stage, for the wrong reason (continuous pressure from my future husband), I got married. By my late twenties, my marriage had deteriorated so badly that every day was miserable. I had all my confidence driven out of me. I began buying and reading self-help books such as I’m OK, You’re OK and Passages. These inspired me to make a change. So, with my children, I left my marriage in search of a better life. Once this had happened, I felt as if a dark cloud had been lifted and there was hope. The changes were scary and risky: a new city, a new business and no self-confidence. But slowly, I grew stronger and became much happier.
When I confronted my next crisis - another unhappy relationship - one of my friends came to my rescue. Her advice was simple, but had considerable impact. She told me to spend half an hour every day remembering happy times. Some of my happiest had been at university. So I gave up everything and moved, along with my young children, to a small town to study for a Master of Science degree, majoring in dietetics. They were some of the best years of my life. I felt I had left all the sad memories behind and could start anew. This time, my confidence had a quick rebirth.
There was no social life for a divorced mother with three children in a small town, but I was completely absorbed in my studies and enjoyed it. In order to raise funds for study grants, the nutrition department at the university asked me to volunteer my expertise - teaching image building. It went so well that after these funds were well stocked, the students I had taught convinced me to run a school. This new venture became most successful. Professors’ children, colleagues, friends and the press all supported me. I produced fashion shows, lectured on nutrition and confidence and had great fun. What a way to build up my own self-esteem! I created my own social life, increased my faith in myself and was being appreciated by the people around me. After my studies were completed at the university, I moved to a large city again, full of confidence, knowing I could conquer anything. Feeling empowered and not afraid to take a risk, I started a dietetic consulting business that grew quickly, was given opportunities to model and began to truly enjoy my new life. I had survived - and, more than that, I had succeeded.
My next challenge was to start all over again in Canada. With three children encouraging me, I completed an MS degree in Nutritional Sciences at the University of Toronto and started a nutrition consulting practice. Life has never been better.
Although the changes were risky, they became easier to make each time and each time my life was improved because of them. If you are going through a slump, get as much help as you can to get out of it. Read self-help books, meet with caring friends or consult a professional, such as a psychotherapist. Change takes time and is challenging: learn from it, and get the best out of it. Know you can succeed, no matter how many obstacles you confront. Even if you don’t believe in yourself, people will support you and encourage you to reach your goals. Your outlook is shaped by past experiences, so learn from them, don’t let the bad ones bog you down. Squash any bitter feelings. Be optimistic about your future. Changing your attitude is key to changing your self-image.
From now on, you’re going to stop all negative thoughts. You’re going to think of yourself as having reached your goal. Picture yourself in one month’s time as healthy, happy and confident. As one of my clients, who has kept her weight off for the past year, said “I now have more energy, confidence and willpower to maintain my lifestyle change. I can’t believe the difference it has made in my self-confidence.” Another of my clients told me, “I had reached a point where I just couldn’t cope anymore – I didn’t like how I looked or felt. Now I have a whole new lease on life! I feel and look great, plus I now have the confidence to continue!”
“I hate my body,” Josie cried. She then told me about an embarrassing moment when she was invited to a cottage. It was going to be an active weekend, with swimming and tennis. Josie felt anxious about it. She didn’t want to be seen in a swimsuit or tennis dress, so she wore a bandage on her foot and told them she had hurt it. This meant she did not have to participate in any activities. However, this did not help her self-esteem as she felt ashamed of herself for the subterfuge. I suggested to her that she had been invited to the cottage because of her personality. She has a wonderful smile and great wit: these are what the other cottage guests would have noticed. If she had participated in the activities, she could have enjoyed an active weekend instead of feeling sorry for herself.
Self-esteem, eating, activity and appearance are all linked. As one of my clients says of her eating behavior: “Losing weight was not as important to me as feeling in control of eating. Eating for the right reasons and really enjoying my food was a terrific bonus. I have a physical and emotional sense of well-being and it has positively influenced every aspect of my life.”
Because you have decided to become healthy and fit, you are going to feel good every day. This attitude will lead to a better feeling about your body. With your new way of thinking and behaving, your confidence and self-esteem will increase and make you feel stronger - more in control.
TAKE POSITIVE ACTION
You need to like yourself, believe in yourself and take action now as increased self-esteem leads to better compliance with eating well and being active on a regular basis.
DON’T AIM FOR PERFECTION
“I used to walk around in baggy clothes saying that they were my style. Now, after losing a few pounds, I’ve started to dress better and it makes me feel confident and happier with myself.” With just a few pounds off, this person was taking better care of herself - mentally and physically.
“But my body’s not perfect” is the cry from many of my clients. But what is perfect? is my response. A slim fashion model? Most of us aren’t built like fashion models. Your goal is to feel fantastic about your body. You may think it’s an impossible goal because you believe happiness revolves around a “perfect” body. If you do, you’re wrong! It’s not important to aim for perfection: it’s important that you feel fantastic about your body! By eating healthily and working out, your energy and enthusiasm will increase and you will radiate this fantastic feeling.
“But my body’s not perfect” is the cry from male and female models. Isn’t that surprising? We think they’re so perfect. Models who are beautiful and look wonderful in clothes tell me they’re not “swimsuit” models. Somehow their bodies aren’t “perfect.” Wow, we’d be grateful just to come close. But the fashion industry is tough, and every part of a model’s body has to be “perfect” or else they’re excluded from certain shows or fashion shoots. You can imagine the stress on these men and women.
Happily we don’t need to endure this stress. A low body weight is unhealthy and unrealistic for most of us to achieve. Many of these slender women and men are naturally lean. I know they’re “naturally lean” when I see them eat fries or pastries and not give it a thought. Many of them tell me they were teased as teenagers and felt very insecure about being too thin. As models, they could actually take advantage of their genetic build.
Still, women want to slim down and have smaller hips and flatter tummies. Men want to bulk up and have big muscles. Learn to love your body and accept yourself as you are. Only by doing that, can you develop a better feeling about yourself and increase your self-esteem.
DON’T AIM TO BE THIN
“I’d be happy if I were thin” is a misconception. You may envy people who are thinner. Some look happier and more confident than you, so you think you’ll be happier if you lose weight. “You can never be too thin...” - you know the saying. Yet I have clients who know they’re too thin. They want to gain weight desperately. They have small appetites and cannot eat when stressed or depressed. This is the opposite of people who are emotional eaters. I have to teach them to eat more, eat all the time, add more fat to their meals and eat between meals. They have to focus on feeling full most of the time, even when stressed. You cannot believe how hard this is for them. It is also a continuous learning process to change habits so that feeling full is the right feeling. Never envy people who are too thin.
Numerous studies have shown that overweight people are regarded as being less appealing than normal-weight persons. Perhaps it’s the negative self-concept that’s causing this. Overweight people often describe their own bodies as fat and unattractive. Many feel that living with a weight problem is “horrible, uncomfortable, embarrassing and humiliating.” When these feelings are reflected in your personality, you become sensitive and develop a fear of getting hurt. You’ll handle this insecurity in numerous ways: becoming unsociable, cynical, or overly funny.
Although I’m a size eight, the fashion industry uses me for the type of jobs suited to me. Since I have never been able to model a size four or six, I could never do couturier shows. Realizing this early in life, I pursued the nutrition profession, which gives me enormous satisfaction. Because of my profession, I never feel miserable when I’m passed up for a great fashion show. By keeping my awareness up and working out, I can maintain a standard healthy size. I’ve done it, so can you. I can’t emphasize enough the impact of a healthy attitude. Know your abilities and feel good about them. Being positive is the key to many opportunities for you both in your social and professional life.
LOVE YOUR BODY
How do you do that? First of all, feel lucky that you’re healthy. Second, focus on your best features. Third, don’t worry about being perfect - it’s too negative a behavior. Envying other people, wishing you were more like them and dreaming of a perfect body can only make you unhappy. Perhaps the “perfect body” will bring you happiness, but your idea of perfection will likely be unhealthy to achieve. My advice is: don’t worry about it. There’s a lot of unhappiness among the “beautiful bodies” in the modeling world. You read about it all the time. So be satisfied with who you are.
DON’T COMPARE YOURSELF
“I wish I were taller” - a common lament, but something you can’t change. It doesn’t help to envy people who are taller or shorter than you are. When you meet someone with better-shaped legs or a flatter stomach, you have to resist comparing yourself with this person. Don't complain, because no one enjoys miserable company. How are you going to feel you’re someone special, someone should find special? Realize you’re lucky to have a healthy body.
You may be so focused on your “bad” parts that you disregard the characteristics you have that other people admire. If the person you’re comparing yourself to has something you can attain, set your goal in that direction and focus on it. Through this type of positive comparison, you can make a small change every day to get where you want to be. Small changes are wonderful and they all add up.
A physician once said to me that everyone should spend one week each year volunteering in the outpatients department in the hospital: a daily site for much human tragedy. After that, they’ll realize how lucky they are.
HAVE A GREAT ATTITUDE
On European beaches, the women walk around in tiny bikinis, often topless. They don’t have “flawless bodies” but it doesn’t seem to bother them. They never say "younger girls have better bodies, so I should cover myself with a large bathing suit and towel." No, all the women walk proudly, as if they’re special. We can learn from this. I don’t mean go topless; I mean walk proudly – project how special you are. In the same way, men in Europe, whether eighteen or eighty, skinny or pot-bellied, feel good about themselves. We must learn from this and be more confident with the bodies we have.
I’ve asked clients, who’ve lost weight and gained confidence, why they didn’t have this attitude when they carried the extra weight. They’re the same person. They say because although their family, friends or significant others accepted them as they were, they were too unhappy with themselves to accept undeserved love and affection.
We can show confidence by accepting compliments with style. If someone remarks about your appearance - “What a pretty dress” or “You look dapper in your suit” - do you accept the compliment graciously? Or do you say, “Oh, this old thing?” or “It’s not my favorite suit,” so that the compliment dies instead of showing your appreciation your companion has for you.
If someone tells you you’re looking tired and sad, turn things around. Accept the truth but look inside of yourself for change. Life is great! Keep focused on the positive, not the negative. Tiredness and sadness will disappear.
You walk down the street peppy and full of life. You’ve just had excellent news. You have a bounce in your walk. You catch your reflection in a shop window and see your stomach sticking out. Your mood changes entirely. You immediately feel deflated, sluggish, tired. How could your frame of mind change so quickly?
You see people walking down the street looking as if they feel great about themselves. Why do you notice them? They’re optimistic, smiling, have plenty of energy and walk with confidence. They have their heads held high and seem to have a purpose. You know people like this. Make them your mentors. Copy the things about them you admire. Do they have perfect looks, perfect bodies, perfect lives? No? So why do they feel so good about themselves? Because they have confidence. You probably have many qualities that they don’t have but they are the ones who feel fantastic. So you need to change mentally! You need to be happy with your body image.
Why do some people lack confidence in the first place? I ask my clients. If the reason is weight, envy or low appreciation of yourself, you need to make changes. By identifying the reason for our lack of confidence, you can focus on making a permanent change in attitude. These kinds of changes have to be with you for the rest of your life. They have to delight you, be exciting. Search until you discover what gives you joy, what is your passion. Increase your self-esteem by sharing your adventures and setbacks with friends and family who care. Their support and encouragement will bolster your sense of belonging, your sense that you deserve love and appreciation.
LOVE YOUR JOB
How can I change people’s lifestyle and make them feel good about themselves if they hate going to work every day? This is not a way to live! They intend to make a change in the next few years, they tell me, but in the meantime, they’ll carry on enduring every day. The only joy is the weekend. Putting their life on hold and waiting for better times is no way to live.
Eating habits and activity routines are hard enough to change when you’re feeling good. If you’re feeling miserable, it’s virtually impossible. Every moment must be savored, enjoyed to the fullest, and that won’t happen if you spend most of those moments doing something you don’t enjoy. People ask why I work such long hours and on weekends. It’s because my work is fun, and I look forward to it every day. It may seem hard to believe, but some nights I cannot sleep because I’m so excited about the next day. That’s the way it should be. Imagine yourself with the same attitude. If you do not enjoy your job, make a change now. Investigate new job opportunities in the area that you find exciting. Be passionate about your job. You deserve to look forward to your days, and your weekends.
BECOME AN EXPERT
“I’m not good at anything,” you complain. Pull yourself out of the dumps and get information on courses at a college where you’ll meet people with similar interests. Find new interests and stop focusing on your perceived inadequacies. If you’re a movie or theater buff, go to the newest, most exciting shows and be known as the “friend who knows what’s on.” If you love to exercise, develop you own technique and then share this at the gym with your friends. The result is that you’ll feel that you’ve made a worthwhile contribution, and you’ll feel good about yourself.
Use what you’ve learned to help others. You’ll be appreciated if you share your knowledge and help people who have a growing interest in your area of expertise. You never know, perhaps they’ll be in a position to reciprocate in the future. In any case, you will derive immense satisfaction from “becoming an expert.”
CREATE AN EXCITING FIRST IMPRESSION
It well known that first impressions count. By being well groomed and showing confidence, you look as if you can handle anything. People will notice your smile, your mannerisms, and your ease and the way you dress. (Please don’t ruin your image by chewing gum!)
REMEMBER YOUR MANNERS
Being polite is underestimated. Small, seemingly inconsequential gestures make other people feel good about themselves. I certainly take notice and feel appreciated when good manners and friendliness are shown to me.
Do you remember the charm schools that proliferated in the sixties? Those quaint institutions instructed us how to sit, stand, shake hands properly and which cutlery to use. We need a 21st century equivalent so that we can feel confident in any situation. For example, correct social behavior is crucial in business today. When a company promotes someone to an executive position, they may need to call in an image expert for a few lessons.
BE KIND TO YOURSELF
“I hate myself.” “Why do I let myself down?” “I’m wasting the best years of my life.” In this competitive world why are you not feeling your best? Why are you not coping with everyday problems? Are you making excuses like “I’m too tired to do anything about it,” or “I don’t have time to care about myself.” Excuses to keep us prisoners of this status quo and not moving in a positive direction.
My clients are their harshest critics. Think about it - are you kind and caring when you think of yourself or are you always finding fault with yourself? It is so easy to be negative. On the other hand, you don’t want to boast or sound arrogant. With careful thought and concentration, you can assess yourself realistically. Do you like what you say to yourself? Does it make you feel good? If not, change these thoughts. Change them to positive statements. Pay yourself compliments. Write down these positive feelings. Remember to flatter yourself regularly. Don’t overdo it - just enough to fight back your negative thoughts and leave you feeling good.
All the time, I hear self-criticism, self-doubt, self-blame, and dissatisfaction with abilities and achievements – those relentless inner conversations full of negative “self-talk.” You view the world as gloomy, always expecting the worst. Discard this approach - practice this change every hour of every day. If you find yourself slipping, pull yourself right back and think positively.
There’s this restaurant that we always return to. Why? Because the waiters demonstrate the kind of attitude that makes us feel welcome. There’s another restaurant with better food, but the waiters have an attitude that makes us feel unwelcome. We also notice that this restaurant is never full. If only these people knew how easy it would be to have a busy restaurant. Just smile, be happy. They should realize that the most important accessory is a smile. If you have a smile at the ready, you’re well on your way to success. This applies to all aspects of business and social life. Practice smiling and you’ll actually enjoy your own life a lot more.
The benefits of smiling are limitless. It leads to pain reduction, healing, creativity, productive days, improved communications and reduced hostility. A client told me, after she changed her lifestyle and eating pattern, that “the rewards in terms of how I look, feel and interact with colleagues have significantly improved - I laugh more, smile more and relax more! I now feel a sense of inner peace and serenity knowing I’m in control!”
GOOD POSTURE AND POISE
“He looks confident.” How can you tell? You see a man standing in a group and he has a confident aura about him. Follow his example. Mimic his stance, his gestures, how he tilts his head, his expressions. He is probably standing comfortably and upright, using his arms expressively to stress a point, inclining his head to listen to others, and smiling because he is enjoying the company. These are all telltale signs of a person’s self-confidence.
Learning to stand or walk properly may seem simple, but I’m always surprised at how many people stand awkwardly or look down when they walk. Keep your eyes in front of you, not on the floor; walk upright without a frown on your face. After being aware of this and reminding yourself continually, you’ll soon be standing or walking beautifully - upright, confident and smiling.
“I hate her squeaky voice.” You know people like this - men or women with high-pitched voices. Others have irritatingly monotonous voices. Some speak too quickly or too slowly. No matter how personable or how interesting these people are, you fee; annoyed by their voices. Practicing to lower your tone of voice is a must. Recording your voice and playing it back will help you focus on what needs work. If you’re feeling insecure or excited, it’s quite natural for you to increase the tone of your voice – practice doing so. Listen to yourself talking, slow down and lower your tone. You’ll find it sounds so much better.
IMPROVE YOUR SEX LIFE
“Wow, sex is great now!” The first time a client told me this, shortly after I began consulting, I became flustered. After all, I was a nutritionist counseling health and lifestyle changes, not sexual prowess. Since then, I’ve gotten used to hearing this. My clients know that I will not breach their confidence. They want to tell someone about it, so they choose me. They have found that healthy eating and being active give them a good feeling about their body and increased enjoyment of sex. And rightly so.
Being overweight affects your self-esteem. We all know this. Research also proves it. “Weight loss leads to improvements in self-esteem and sexual life.” These findings come from a study at the Diet and Fitness Center of the Duke University Medical Center. The results indicated that even a minor weight loss in men and women can have an important effect on their quality of life. The study concluded that North Americans are obsessed with weight loss and that too often a scale is used as a measure of success. So we overlook the positive life changes that accompany weight loss - even small weight loss.
I was at a charity event when I met the wife of a client. “Thank you for slimming down my husband, it has improved our sex life greatly,” she said to me. I was taken aback and so was the husband, but the wife was beaming. Since then, I’ve kept track of the remarks my clients make about their sex lives. None of the following stories in any way breaches the confidence of the counselor/client relationship, as names have been altered.
QUOTES FROM WOMEN
Elizabeth burst into tears in my office. I didn’t know what the problem was as she had been so successful with her healthy eating and activity plan and had lost twenty pounds. She said that for the first time, she had bought herself a beautiful lace bra and was proud to wear it in front of her husband. They had been happily married for thirty years. I realized the tears she was shedding were tears of joy. Her happiness gives me great joy as feeling sexy is important in a loving relationship.
“When I was heavier, it wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy sex, I was trying to hide my fat areas,” says Katy, who lives with her boyfriend. “Now I realize how stupid I was. It’s not the weight; it’s how I felt. My boyfriend loves me at any weight, only now I love myself, so I’m more relaxed in bed.”
“You have a permanent grin on your face, you must be having great sex.” That is the remark that Thelma received from her colleagues at the office. She had lost fifteen pounds. I didn’t ask her if her sex life had improved, but she seemed pleased with the fact her co-workers assumed so.
Sandra remarked, “I’ve been happily married for many years. With a loss in weight of only ten pounds, I can wear short skirts. I am quite amused when young men look at me as I walk down the street. It’s quite an ego boost. I don’t intend to do anything about it, but I add an extra swagger.”
“I gained twenty pounds in one year just after I turned forty-five. I felt middle-aged, lethargic and as unsexy as the telltale spreading bulge of my body. I tried to tell myself that I was no longer a svelte young thing and I shouldn’t become a body-obsessed person. I convinced myself that I still liked my body and that my lover meant it when he said he still loved my body. But I felt inhibited. With weight loss I enjoy sex so much more.”
“Losing weight was not as important to me as feeling in control of eating,” another client told me. Eating for the right reasons and really enjoying my food was a terrific bonus. I have a physical and emotional sense of well-being and it has positively influenced every aspect of my life. When I actually lost the desired weight, I felt much more confident. I felt more attractive and as a result I had a greater sexual desire. For the first time, I initiated sex with my husband.”
“I dress differently, not only in my outerwear, my underwear has taken a sexy leap forward.”
“Within a year I lost the twenty pounds and with it I seemed to shed ten years. Everyone tells me how fantastic I look. I can fit into all my clothes again (this program was cheaper than a new wardrobe) and I have energy to burn. And, as everyone knows, there’s no better sexual turn-on than feeling good about your body - and, I feel really good about my body! P.S. Two years later and the weight has stayed off!”
QUOTES FROM MEN
“Being overweight makes me sensitive and snippy so I’ll criticize my wife, knowing I’m hurting her, but feeling insecure myself. I pretend I want to watch television at night even if it’s boring. I become depressed and snack continuously, trying to destroy myself,” says Daniel, husband of a fashion model. “My wife loved me no matter what I said. But I didn’t like myself. So gradually I started to work out and make healthier food choices. I’m pleased that I’ve now gained confidence and I look much better and feel much better. I do have days when I am nasty and depressed, but usually I can relate it to overeating and being bored or disappointed with myself.”
A forty-five-year-old male proudly stated, “Whenever I would go to the beach, I would always wear a shirt. I was not overweight but out of shape and needed to tone up. So, four years ago, I started working out at the gym and doing martial arts. Soon, people around me started noticing a difference in how I walked and looked. Slowly I began to notice myself getting stronger, being more confident in my work ethic and being more active in the bedroom as well. I would shed my shirt in the summer time at the beach. No more hiding. I felt good, I looked good, and the people around me noticed a lot of difference in my personality. It made a lot of difference to my business and my sex drive and I felt that staying fit and eating properly became an important part of my daily routine. My secret was, I wanted to improve my physical appearance and mental attitude. In order to do this, I needed to monitor my eating and activity habits.” So men are not always as confident as we think. But confidence and sexual comfort can increase with age, activity and attitude.
A client told me, “We plan to cuddle or have sex after dinner. That has stopped my night bingeing.” Now there’s a positive approach to a healthier lifestyle.
You see overweight people with confidence and slim people without. The confident person is much more attractive. Learn from this and practice holding your head up high and liking yourself.
You have now accepted the fact that weight loss makes you look better and feel better. Even a minor change in your weight gives you an immediate boost of confidence. With an increase in self-esteem, it’s only logical that you’ll feel greater confidence about your sexuality, and your sex life will improve as a result.