In late August, Crystal Jackson, 36, found herself lost in the hiking trails of Hard Labor Creek State Park, Georgia. She should have been admiring the beauty of the woods, she recalls. Instead, she was focused on sucking in her stomach.
“I started to think about the fact that I was alone in the woods, and I cared that much about what my stomach looked like, and if I was the right weight, which is insane because I’m extremely fit person,” Jackson tells NBC News BETTER.
Putting my thoughts on a diet is being just really self aware at what I dwell on, and where I allow my thoughts to go.
Jackson, who is a novelist, says this negative “self talk” about her body was an issue most of her life. As a teenager, she was criticized for being too skinny. She gained a few pounds in her mid-20s. She says people started asking her if she was pregnant. Some gave her unsolicited weight loss advice.
During her hike, it occurred to Jackson that she had turned these critical remarks into her own internal dialogue.
“Our thoughts are incredibly powerful,” she says, “but I didn’t realize the power of those thoughts until I was critical with no one around to judge me.”
When she finally emerged from the trail that day, she had a new perspective: She was no longer going to obsess about the way she looked. She needed to put her thoughts on a diet rather than her body, she says.
Here’s how she did it.
She created a lifestyle she enjoys
Jackson ditched the gym for activities she enjoys, like hiking, yoga, kayaking, and running outdoors.
“I focus on the strength, fitness and health rather than reaching a certain weight loss goal or losing so many inches, or fitting into a certain size,” she says
Our thoughts are incredibly powerful, but I didn’t realize the power of those thoughts until I was critical with no one around to judge me.
“I don’t worry about how many carbs might be in the piece of fruit that I’m eating,” she says “I take it away from diet and just focus on living a healthier lifestyle.”
She never speaks badly about her body
Jackson says she doesn’t criticize her body or appearance, especially in front of her son and daughter, who are four and six years old.
“I try very hard, since I have young children in my home, not to voice criticisms of my body or a picture of myself,” she says.
She anticipates when she will be most vulnerable to self-criticism
Jackson says she typically puts on about five pounds during her period. It’s the time of month when she says she feels the worst about her body. She says it’s most important for her to be conscious of any negative self-talk during this time.
“Putting my thoughts on a diet is being just really self aware at what I dwell on, and where I allow my thoughts to go,” she says.
I’m concentrating on health, strength, endurance — things that have to do more with being fit and not with fitting into a size.
She says learning to ignore the critical voice in her head is a lot like meditation. “Letting it go, and not following it down whatever habit hole it wants to take me down,” she says.
She focuses on the good
Whenever Jackson starts having negative thoughts about her body, she turns her focus to what she likes about herself.
“I really try to focus on positive things about my appearance,” she says, noting that she recently had braces removed and now has a more attractive smile.
Since putting her thoughts on a diet, Jackson says she’s become much less obsessive about body image.
“I’m concentrating on health, strength, endurance — things that have to do more with being fit and not with fitting into a size,” Jackson says.
MORE FROM BETTER
- What is gaslighting? And how do you know if it's happening to you?
- How one couple saved their marriage by asking this simple question
- How to spot (and deal with) an energy vampire
- Why this marriage counselor says a "good enough marriage" is one that lasts a lifetime