What if trying to make yourself “better” is actually making you worse?
When you have ADHD, it is easy to get stuck in a pattern of criticizing yourself and punishing yourself for your challenges. It is easy to fall into the unhelpful belief that if we push ourselves harder and are stricter with ourselves, then we will be “fixed” and worthy. This struggle can easily manifest in various – perhaps unexpected – ways. One way that self-criticism can play a part in daily life with ADHD is within our relationship with food, weight, and body-image.
We often feel pressure to judge our bodies based on the numbers on a physical scale and pressure to judge our success based on social scales of worth. We often put ourselves down when our bodies do not fit into an ideal size or when we don’t get a gold star at school or work. We forget that we get to create our own scale.
I began to feel proud of myself when I learned that my intelligence could not be determined by a grade. I began to focus on my efforts and not what grade I got. I stopped comparing myself to my peers who said, “I didn’t study and I got an A!” I knew I studied for hours and I got a C, but I worked hard that mattered to me. I created my own scale, with effort and personal achievements as the markers of success. I began to see ADHD as a learning ability as opposed to a disability because ADHD has made me persevere through adversity, a life skill not learned when everything comes easily.
The physical scale that society judged me on was at the doctor’s office. I remember going to my appointment, looking at the growth and weight charts, and hearing the nurse say that I was “too something” and that I didn’t fit their marker. These days I see that I will never fit, because I am an individual.
If I asked you, “Would you put yourself in a relationship with someone who consistently makes you unhappy?,” you would likely answer, “No!” Yet we step on a scale fully aware that it can have a profound, negative influence on our mood and actions. We will not let a person decide our thoughts and actions, but we willingly let a piece of plastic do it! We are weighing ourselves on the wrong scale.
Just as with ADHD, I had to learn to find my own measures. After growing tired of fighting with the scale, I started to become healthy when I stopped trying to reach a number and started aiming for a healthy body.
However, this revelation didn’t come without a struggle. When I had a negative image of myself, I labeled a lot food as “bad, bad, bad.” The smaller I got, the more healthy I thought I was becoming. I thought that if I reached a particular number then I would be happy; in that moment my body would be perfect, people would be more attracted to me, and I would finally be happy with myself. And then I got to that number.
I had more compliments than ever. I saw my body as “perfect” but there was one problem…I still wasn’t happy. “Why?”, I asked myself. “Why is there no rainbow or glitter magically appearing? If I think I look perfect, then why don’t I feel perfect?” I realized that in trying to make myself “better,” I was actually making myself worse. I was so focused on achieving a certain weight in order to be happy, that I didn’t notice that my weight wasn’t a problem; my insecurities were the problem.
I now weigh myself on a different scale, the one in my head. After I made “healthy” my new goal instead of the number on the scale, I started doing what made me feel healthy. I started listening to my body. I ate foods that made me feel good and worked out the appropriate amount that did the same. I realized that each person’s healthy is different and subject to change and fluctuation.
I thank my body for what it can do. I thank my thighs for being able to run. I thank my nose for being able to breathe. If you can find one reason to be thankful for what your body can do, then you have to be thankful that you have it and putting yourself down becomes hard. For me, the first step to liking my stomach was simply appreciating that it could digest food. Try it! It just may help you balance your inner scale.
Your challenge, right now, is to appreciate something physical about yourself. I often make lists of things I like and add some things that I do not favor as well. I find that having something negative around a lot of positives makes it hard to keep focusing on the negative; surrounded by the things that I am grateful for, the negative quickly becomes a positive. Things only appear as we see them, that is why we must change the way we see ourselves.
Meredith Graf is a college student and artist, advocate and educator. She is passionate about bringing hope, empowerment, and education on body image and healthy self-concept, as well as living successfully with ADHD.