5 Ways to Tame Toxic Thinking and Negative Self-Talk

Elizabeth Millard
by Elizabeth Millard
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5 Ways to Tame Toxic Thinking and Negative Self-Talk

It’s possible that what you think can affect your health to a greater degree than you might realize. If you get down on yourself about your weight, for example, it might have a ripple effect that boosts serious health risks.

In a recent study, researchers found that when participants were negative about how much they weighed — often as a result of hearing body-shaming messages from celebrities and on social media — they showed a greater chance of developing metabolic syndrome, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and obesity-related health problems.

“Negativity can actually change your brain chemistry as well,” says Loretta Graziano Breuning, PhD, author of “Habits of a Happy Brain.” She notes that people often default to negative thinking, which increases levels of cortisol — the hormone responsible for stress response. When cortisol spikes, it lowers hormones related to calmness and joy, like dopamine and serotonin. Increased stress brings its own health problems, including weight gain, insomnia, anxiety and systemic inflammation.

Fortunately, there are ways to tame toxic thinking, especially when it comes to your fitness goals. Here are some tips:


Sometimes, it helps simply to notice the kinds of thoughts that are firing through your brain, suggests Breuning. The mind gets into patterns and habits, and it takes some effort to shift those, but the first step is to hear yourself. Write down the kind of stinky thinking you tell yourself — you may be surprised by some of the things you “say” inside your head.


Whether you’re a frazzled parent looking for wisdom about work-life balance, or an athlete who worries about overtraining, it’s likely there’s a group of people online facing those exact issues. Connect with them, but also find the ones who feel like they lift you up with what they say and how they live. This shouldn’t produce envy, but instead give you a sense of inspiration and motivation. Check out Instagram, Pinterest or Twitter and find your squad.



“Telling yourself to be more positive is nice, but it’s too vague to be useful,” says Jen Sincero, author of “You Are a Badass.” “Specifics will set you free,” she says. “What do you want to be saying to yourself? What do you hope to accomplish? The more specific you can be, the more you’ll be delivering instructions to your brain.” For example, instead of telling yourself that you “never” do enough at the gym, you might say, “I’m really proud of myself for making time to the get to the gym, and I just killed that last HIIT session.”


You likely look at your reflection in a mirror at least a dozen times a day — some surveys put the number at closer to 60 — so make the most of it. Choose an action that makes you feel happier, like winking at yourself or sticking your tongue out. You might say a single, calming thought like, “I’m crushing it today,” or “I have time for everything I need to do.”


Originally used as a word or a sound designed to deepen a meditation practice, a mantra has evolved to mean a statement or motto that’s repeated frequently. Breuning notes that this kind of repetition actually creates new pathways in the brain, rewiring you for more positive thinking. Your mantra could be anything from, “I am amazing and I look amazing,” to a quick, “Go, team me!” Play around with phrasing and notice what gets you to an empowered place the fastest.

About the Author

Elizabeth Millard
Elizabeth Millard

Elizabeth is a freelance journalist specializing in health and fitness, as well as an ACE certified personal trainer and Yoga Alliance registered yoga teacher. Her work has appeared in SELF, Runner’s World, Women’s Health and CNN.


7 responses to “5 Ways to Tame Toxic Thinking and Negative Self-Talk”

  1. Avatar Adrie says:

    Great message but the women whose pic you showed… well let’s just say it would be much easier to have positive self talk about your body if that’s what your body looked like!

    • Avatar Sonia M says:

      Doesn’t mean you can’t be self-concious. You can be skinny, well in shape and feel like it’s not good enough. It’s just how you see yourself and how you feel in your body.

  2. Avatar Chris Wilson says:

    Taming toxic thoughts won’t judt help with weight loss and exercise, it can help with interpersonal relationships as well. Reflection is a key component emotional intelligence which enhances socisl skills. Excellent!

  3. Avatar Carl says:

    I have negative thoughts every minute of every day. It is a constant struggle. Plus I AM in shape, but they still come. It almost ended my life years ago, but through a lot of hard work I’ve learned to battle it.

    • Avatar Wanderlowe says:

      I have dreadful negative thoughts but have discovered if I get out of my head into my heart space and focus on how I feel. I normally feel really good, it’s my thoughts that can talk me out of it. So I have practiced stopping the thoughts which aren’t real and I don’t have to listen to them and focus on the uplifting way I feel instead! I also massage rescue remedy into my heart space to remind me this is how I feel not what I think! It’s worked for me!

  4. Avatar Guest says:

    My problem is with people who make the negative self-thinking worse. You know, the ones who think that any positive ideas you have about yourself mean you’re a narcissist? And goodness forbid if you even think about voicing anything you’re good at. Or any accomplishments you have; definitely an egomaniac there.

  5. Avatar Ruth says:

    Negative thoughts are definitely my downfall! Am trying to really keep them in check lately but its so difficult. Sometimes I don’t even realise I’m doing it.

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