Psychologist Nancy Logue and nutrition therapist Jill Shaffer have launched a campaign to fight the negative language people use to describe their bodies. (Photo by Lynn Robbins.)

Jill Shaffer has a message for you that you probably won’t hear from mainstream media. It’s time to stop bad body talk. It’s time to change the message.

It’s time to change bad body talk that says “You’re too fat” … “You’re the wrong shape” … “You’re the wrong size” … “There’s something wrong with you” … “You’re not good enough.”

Shaffer, a nutrition therapist and registered dietitian, is the owner of Eating Matters, a private practice at Pennington Point West off Route 31.

In a campaign to stop negative self talk, she has teamed up with Nancy Logue, a Yardley, Pennsylvania based licensed psychologist who holds a doctorate in clinical developmental psychology. The team holds workshops designed to help people become aware of bad body talk and its negative affects and, most importantly, to give them tools to change the messages.

On Wednesday, February 20, the public will have a chance to learn how they can tune into their own perceptions and reactions to body talk and how they can replace negative messages with healthy ones. Shaffer and Logue will hold a workshop, “Stop Bad Body Talk… Change the Message” at Pennington Point West at 7 pm. The workshop takes place a few days before National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, February 25-March 2.

Over the past several months, Shaffer and Logue have held workshops at Hopewell Valley High School and at Hamilton’s Game Time Performance sports training facility. Participants include people who want to lose or gain weight, and people who don’t have a physical weight problem but perceive that they do. The workshops are attended by teens, women, and men.

We hear and see bad body talk almost everywhere, on magazine covers, late night talk shows, reality TV shows, and even within well-intentioned programs designed to address obesity issues, Shaffer said.

It isn’t likely that we can stop the media from sending out these messages overnight. But we can stop sending them to ourselves starting now. You begin by noticing how you react to comments made by others and yourself, and become aware of your attitudes about your body and your eating habits. As you become aware of your internal dialog, you can start replacing negative messages with ones that are neutral or positive.

“Once we are aware, we have choices. A lot of the work is challenging people’s beliefs,” Shaffer said.

We get mixed messages from media. On the one hand, we are told, we’re too fat. We need to diet or take pills. On the other hand, ads for fast food restaurants and companies who sell snack foods encourage us to consume the kinds of food and portion sizes that cause weight gain.

“There are industries that are making a lot of money from our discomfort,” Logue said.

Unfortunately, they promote the idea that there is a right size for everyone, but that’s not the case. You can be healthy at any size. We’re not saying, ignore your size, but don’t over-emphasize it. You can’t reduce health to a number or clothing size. This is particularly damaging to children.”

“Unfortunately, the anti obesity campaign causes shame. Shame makes people want to avoid their issues. Harsh judgment doesn’t get you anywhere.”

Shaffer said that changing your beliefs and habits takes some commitment but it can be done.

She described a young woman who was plagued with negative thoughts and feelings about her body. She often compared herself to photos of friends on Facebook, and was constantly criticizing her shape and size. Although she was skeptical at the Stop Bad Body Talk workshop, she decided to try changing the messages she was giving herself.

“She worked hard at practicing the skills she learned and was surprised to notice that she began feeling better about herself,” Shaffer said. “She started taking better care of herself, making healthier food choices and being more physically active, and it was a month or so later that she discovered that she actually liked her body.”

Workshop participants are encouraged to take the “Change the Message Challenge”: To go a full week without using any bad body talk. To help them reach this goal, participants are given a pocket size card with tips and suggestions for replacing negative messages with neutral or positive ones.

Shaffer is often asked what parents can do to help their children have better self images and eating habits. Parents need to be good role models, she said. Having meals together as a family is important. Parents can help direct their kids’ attention to healthy pursuits and can deemphasize negative talk. Teens can learn to love their bodies and to trust their internal signals.

To learn more about Change the Message or sign up for the February 20 workshop, visit changethemessage.com or call (609) 818-0020.

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