Mind your Language

How self-talk affects weight & body image

How internal negative self-talk shifts to kinder language with the support of a positive group

  • New research commissioned by Slimming World looks at how critical and negative language around weight and body image damages our self-esteem and can spiral into a vicious cycle
  • 60% of British adults say they sometimes struggle with their weight or body image
  • Of those, 74% use self-deprecating (belittling) language when talking about their own weight or body image
  • 63% of respondents report having used negative words to describe themselves against 37% who report using positive words
  • A third (33%) of those who sometimes struggle with their weight or body image say that their friends, family or partner/spouse negatively affects their self-esteem on a daily basis
  • 89% of Slimming World members say that losing weight as part of Slimming World has helped them feel more positive
  • Behavioural psychologist Dr Linda Papadopoulos says that we must learn to break the cycle of self-loathing and negative self-talk and develop a more positive attitude to succeed in making changes
  • Dr Jacquie Lavin, Head of Nutrition and Research at Slimming World says that peer support and learning to quieten our inner critic is crucial

New research commissioned by Slimming World has found that 60%[i] of British adults have sometimes struggled with their weight or body image, and of those, 74% have used self-critical language when referring to their weight or body image.

The Mind your Language report explores how we use critical language around weight and body image to denigrate ourselves. This has a negative impact on our self-esteem and can spiral into self-loathing. Participants in the research[ii] who struggled with their weight reported using words like ‘failure’, ‘shame’, ‘dissatisfied’, ‘hopeless’, ‘anxious’, ‘invisible’, ‘uncomfortable’, ‘insecure’ and ‘embarrassed’ to describe how they felt about themselves and their weight and body image.

Respondents to the general population survey were more likely to describe themselves using negative words than positive – 63% versus 37%. Nearly half of the respondents to the survey who sometimes struggle with their weight or body image (47%) report that they have described themselves as ‘fat’.

In contrast, Slimming World members who had started to lose weight and were part of a caring, supportive community which understood their feelings, reported[iii] feeling ‘positive’, ‘attractive’, ‘inspired’, ‘content’, ‘empowered’, ‘happy’, ‘determined’, ‘optimistic’ and ‘fit’.

The research found that one of the reasons that we self-deprecate is to motivate ourselves to change. However, far from helping with motivation, the research found that self-deprecation, can be exacerbated by external negativity and fat shaming, creating a vicious cycle of self-criticism that is difficult to break.

Behavioural psychologist Dr Linda Papadopoulos, who worked with Slimming World on the study, says: “People self-deprecate for a number of reasons which has an impact on self-esteem. This can then be made worse by external factors including social media and the media, and even friends and family. This onslaught of negativity can be particularly damaging because it takes a specific feature and generalises it. In our heads, the self-talk of “I am overweight”, turns into “I hate my body”, and then turns into “I don’t like myself”.”

Dr Linda continues: “It’s true that you need to feel that you don’t like something to be motivated to change it, but there is a difference between ‘I don’t like this’ to ‘I am this and I’m not good enough’.

Dr Linda Papadopoulos, behavioural psychologist
By being part of a supportive, like-minded social group and learning to be kinder to yourself it’s possible to shift negative self-talk and motivate positive change.
Dr Linda Papadopoulos, behavioural psychologist

Slimming World members reported that being a member made them feel more positive about themselves (91%), 89% said losing weight had helped them feel more positive, while 72% said their Slimming World group makes them feel like they are not alone.

Dr Jacquie Lavin, Head of Nutrition & Research
By creating a supportive environment, free from judgement or humiliation, Slimming World helps members tackle self-criticism, building confidence and self-esteem, in order to make positive behaviour changes.
Dr Jacquie Lavin, Head of Nutrition & Research

Dr Jacquie Lavin, Head of Nutrition and Research at Slimming World, says: “The peer support available in Slimming World groups is what sets us apart. Our members are part of a community, something special, which helps them to realise, and feel, that they are not alone in the challenges they face. They are able to take pride in being part of a group that genuinely cares for and helps one other – it’s this pride and sense of belonging, where they learn to quieten their inner critic, and any negative thoughts they’ve had about themselves.

“Through the creation of a positive group dynamic, sharing solutions, recognising achievements and having a structured programme where healthy changes are rewarded and successes celebrated, members are motivated and inspired to change. It’s great to see that 91% of our members surveyed said that being a Slimming World member has made them feel more positive about themselves.”

Notes to Editors

[i] All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from Walnut Unlimited. Total sample size was 2029 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 29th November to 1st December 2019. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

[ii] The online qualitative research platform was undertaken by Walnut Unlimited. It consisted of nine members of the general public and nine Slimming World members. The research was undertaken between 27th and 28th November 2019.

[iii] The Slimming World survey was undertaken online. Total sample size was 1202 Slimming Members (aged 18+). Fieldwork was undertaken between 28th November to 5th December.

For more information, interviews or case studies please contact: Lysette Mazur, Senior PR Officer, lysette.mazur@slimmingworld.co.uk / 01773 304 253 / 07940 582 491

Slimming World

Slimming World was founded by Margaret Miles-Bramwell (OBE, FRSA) in 1969. There are now more than 19,000 weekly groups supporting 900,000 members across the UK and Republic of Ireland. Groups are run by a network of 5,500 community-based Slimming World Consultants, who receive specific training in the role of diet and physical activity in weight management, as well as sophisticated behaviour-change techniques. Slimming World’s healthy eating plan, Food Optimising, is based on the science of satiety and energy density. Our phased activity programme, Body Magic, eases members into activity until it becomes an intrinsic part of their daily routine. The principles behind Slimming World’s philosophy are based on a deep understanding of the challenges faced by people who are overweight and recognition that those who struggle with weight carry a double burden, the weight itself and a burden of guilt and shame about their weight. Slimming World’s programme integrates practical, up-to-date advice with a highly developed support system based on care and compassion, and Consultant training focuses on facilitating, encouraging and empowering members to make changes in a supportive, warm and friendly group environment. Consultant training is delivered through the Slimming World Academy. Slimming World also invests in a comprehensive research programme to develop its support for long-term weight management. The group support provided by Slimming World is recognised as effective by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and the NHS.

For more information about Slimming World’s approach visit www.slimmingworld.co.uk or call 0344 897 8000. Follow Slimming World on Twitter at www.twitter.com/slimmingworld or become a Slimming World fan on Facebook at www.facebook.com/slimmingworld

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