So You've Considered a Diet For Your Body, But What About For Your Mind?

This mindfulness exercise completely transformed my sense of self-worth.
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Maggie Niemiec
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This mindfulness exercise completely transformed my sense of self-worth.

She’s engaged!
She’s having a baby!
Holy cow, her body bounced back so quickly.
She looks awesome in that bikini.
She ran a half-marathon; I can barely run two miles.
Wow, she cooked a gourmet “clean” dinner, whereas I ate a box of pasta.
I wish I could afford a Valentino dress and a Parisian vacation like her.

No, that’s not a back-and-forth between two girls in a chick-lit novel—that’s a sample of the running stream of thoughts that goes through my head as I scroll along in Instagram.

It starts out innocently enough. I open the app. I look at my feed, and then tap, tap, tap. The “search” page is too tempting to stay away from. The next thing I know, I’m looking at the past three months of my favorite fashion blogger’s outfits, or the entirely documented relationship of The Bachelor and his fiancée, or the wedding photos of a sorority sister whom I haven’t talked to in four years.

Then the comparison kicks in, the judgment statements become louder, and the self-doubt slowly spins its lies. A few minutes of mindless scrolling, and my head becomes a dangerous minefield ready to explode.

At least, that’s how it used to be.

Engaging in social media, blogging, building websites, and tracking all the latest happenings in the digital world are part of my job. And I love it. I really do. But recently I noticed how quickly I let myself get wrapped up in Instagram and Facebook and looking at other people’s lives. Something that is supposed to be fun and easy became sneakily destructive.

My counselor is the one who brought it up. I had been telling her about my anxiety and how I tend to compare myself to other women—whether I know them or not. After talking about it with her, we both began to see how much my active digital presence contributed to this comparison complex.

She didn’t want me to drop social media entirely. As a writer, these platforms are helpful for me to build community and give me a place to share my work. But as someone who has struggled with body image and an eating disorder, what she did want for me to do is learn how to use social media in a healthy, life-giving way.

So my therapist challenged me to complete a mindfulness exercise: Write down every page I visit when clicking through the web, Instagram, or Facebook. Stop and write down each new page as I go along, and then take note if writing down the pages helped to curtail my browsing.

What was I clicking on? How fast was I moving to the next page, the next blog, the next Instagram image? Where did my thoughts wander when doing so?

I did this exercise for one day, and I was amazed at how much a bit of awareness changed my outlook. Employing mindfulness in my daily Web browsing not only made me more aware of what I was clicking on, but it also made me stop looking at pages and profiles that simply weren’t healthy for me.

So now I’m in the midst of what I call a mindful detox. Forget about detoxing with fruits and vegetables. I’m talking about a full-on detox for the soul. What I feed my brain and my heart is just as important as what I feed my stomach. I want to be healthy in mind, body, and soul.

I don’t need to see how a popular blogger got her “bikini body.” I don’t need to see the engagement photos of a sorority sister whom I haven’t talked to in years. And I most definitely do not need to see a lifestyle guru’s clean recipe whipped up to perfection in less than thirty minutes while I was eating delivery.

Looking at these snapshots is not an inherently bad thing. Oftentimes, doing so can be inspiring, encouraging, and exciting. Social media connects us and allows us to reach people, even befriend people, we otherwise would not have. But when I mindlessly tap from one image to the next, I stop seeing the images for what they are: bits of someone’s life put on display and usually made to look presentable and flattering. Instead, these tiny 4x4 images become larger than life and show a window into lives that somehow seem better than mine.

The first step for me was to take a look at who I’m following on social media. I’ve unfollowed accounts that just bring out my self-criticism and the accounts that don’t make me happy. I’ve begun to follow and prioritize accounts full of encouragement, real beauty, and honesty, and those are the ones I’d much rather look at anyway.

I’m also logging out more often and checking in way less. If I log out of the Instagram app, I’m a lot less likely to pull it up when I’m bored and wanting to waste time. By having to type in my password each time I want to check the app, I instantly have a built-in buffer that helps me ask why I’m logging in to begin with. I turned off all notifications, too, so that I get to control when I’m seeing who liked my photos or who tagged me. This, plus giving myself a time limit when I do log in, has helped me to start using Instagram—and all social media, really—in a much more conscious way.

Changing the media diet for my mind has led me to read actual books again. I was a voracious reader as a kid and teen, but in the past few years, books have taken a backseat to magazines, websites, blogs, and social media. I have to say, a little literature is quite nice once in a while. (I’m currently reading and highly recommend Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín.)

The last part of this mindful detox: switching up the negative soundtrack in my head. At the advice of my counselor, I recorded a voice memo on my phone of myself—speaking positive, affirming, truthful thoughts. It’s something I can listen to in moments of insecurity and self-doubt. It might sound weird, and it kind of is. Yet it’s a way for me to listen to reality and remember the facts instead of relying on my ever-changing feelings.

I am smart, funny, beautiful, and loved. My Instagram feed and my Facebook profile have no bearing on any of those things. They have no bearing on my worth as a woman—and the profiles I view certainly do not. I get to be me, regardless of how many times I check my social media accounts, or what my abs look like compared to my friend from high school, or how my breakfast compares to Gwyneth Paltrow’s. I’m me, Maggie. That’s more than enough, and that’s exactly who I want to be. 

Photo Credit: Sarah Kiesling Photography