Self Image: How to Change Your Thinking to Love Your Body Every Day

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

When social media apps like Instagram present a perfectly edited snapshot of life, it’s hard not to compare ourselves and our bodies to an over-idealized standard. In the first episode on a series called “Love Your Body Week,” Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen talk body image issues, and then give you a certain method of self-talk can leave you feeling much better about who you are and how you look.


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Dr Daniel Amen: Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way Podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.

Tana Amen: And I am Tana Amen. Here we teach you how to win the fight for your brain, to defeat anxiety, depression, memory loss, ADHD, and addictions.

Dr Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we've transformed lives for three decades using brain SPECT imaging to better target treatment and natural ways to heal the brain. For more information visit

Tana Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is also brought to you by BrainMD where we produce the highest quality nutraceutical products to support the health of your brain and body. For more information visit

Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way Podcast.

Dr Daniel Amen: Welcome everybody. We're going to call this week Love Your Body Week.

Tana Amen: And for some people that's hard.

Dr Daniel Amen: Well, it's really hard. If you're a shrimp like I am. I mean, that was sort of an issue my whole life.

Tana Amen: That's the misconception. People think that if you are that, it's harder to love your body. That's not true. Some of the people who are the hardest on themselves are attractive women, because they're just … they're so over focused on every single detail. Why are you staring at me?

Dr Daniel Amen: Because you're beautiful. Why would you ever … ? Although it's hysterical. When Tana and I first met, I took her to a conference of a friend of mine, Byron Katie, and there were like 300 people-

Tana Amen: It was so eye opening-

Dr Daniel Amen: … in this tent, and Katie was talking about body image, and she had everyone write down their thoughts about their body.

Tana Amen: It was so wild.

Dr Daniel Amen: And I didn't know what Tana wrote and someone who is in the back who is probably 300 pounds …

Tana Amen: And much older than I was.

Dr Daniel Amen: Got out there and just started talking about how much she hated her body. Why don't you tell the story?

Tana Amen: What was so wild to me, there's no way … At that time of my life there's no way I was going to get up and share. And yes, I had a lot of body image issues growing up and through various times in my life, like probably most women, but it was pretty significant at that time. And so I wrote a bunch of stuff because it was the exercise and I wanted to participate. If you can deal with something, deal with it. But I'm laying down, I'm not really looking at anyone, I was up in the front with you, and all of the sudden I hear this woman start to talk and I can tell by her voice that she's significantly older than I was. So I turn around, and what made me turn around though was that her list was virtually identical to mine. I'm like, “What is going on?”

When I turned around, she was much older and she was very obese, and I was like, “I'm so confused. Her list is identical to mine.” She suffered from all the same thoughts, all the same everything, and that was so eye opening for me. But the really wild part was I loved when Byron Katie said, and the woman was really in a lot of pain because her husband had left her for someone young and beautiful and so her idea became that she needed to be, look younger and be thinner and be beautiful in order to get her, get a man, get her husband back or get a different man or whatever, but that's what men wanted and so that's what she needed to be.

Byron Katie said, “So wait a minute. You don't want to do that because you want to be healthy? You want to be thin and beautiful and young so you can manipulate men?” It was just so eye opening. But the part that was the most wild for me is, and I couldn't help myself, at that time I never would speak in public, that was just not my thing. But I stood up and I'm like, “Wait. I'm sorry, I'm a size two, and what you're saying, your list is virtually identical to mine. I'm younger than you are. And, oh by the way, I've news for you. My marriage still fell apart.” So it's, we have the same problems, we have the same problems, the same thoughts, the same … pretty much the whole thing was the same. And it was pretty crazy. That's when it struck me. This is not an external problem. This is an internal problem.

Dr Daniel Amen: So who's considered probably the most iconic beautiful woman of the last century killed herself, Marilyn Monroe.

Tana Amen: I know Marilyn Monroe. And she was curvaceous. She was not … She would've been chunky by our standards today.

Dr Daniel Amen: Yeah, but there's still a lot of guys that like how she looked.

Tana Amen: Absolutely. She was gorgeous.

Dr Daniel Amen: The twiggy thing often doesn't work.

Tana Amen: And it shouldn't.

Dr Daniel Amen: For a lot of people.

Tana Amen: It's not realistic.

Dr Daniel Amen: And it's not healthy.

Tana Amen: No. Being too thin is equally unhealthy as being overweight.

Dr Daniel Amen: So how do we get people listening to begin to assess their feelings about their body and love their body?

Tana Amen: So I really like-

Dr Daniel Amen: Because we call this Love Your Body Week, and according to one study I read, 93% of girls hate their bodies.

Tana Amen: Oh yeah. Oh no, and by nine years old, a study done in South Carolina, they said that by nine years old most girls have been on a diet and 10% of them had tried vomiting. That's just crazy. But I mean, we always look at it from four circles. It's not always just psychological. Sometimes there's hormonal imbalances, certainly puberty, all these studies in front of me show that puberty, they all say the same thing, puberty is when it peaks, puberty is when it's the hardest especially for girls, it happens for boys too, but it's worse for girls. That's when body shaming really starts and girls are vicious at that age. Now we have this whole new thing. There's one study here I love. It says Instagram is the worst social media app for young people's mental health, and it's …

Dr Daniel Amen: Why is that?

Tana Amen: Because there are so many … All the pictures are perfect. All the pictures are perfect. There are so many models on there. Even the food is perfect. Everything on there, you post it because it's perfect. You want to post these really cool pictures, you're trying to get a following. And so these girls are all comparing themselves. I know Chloe started, she came home one day when she was in seventh grade and she was really started struggling. And that was the first I had seen that of her. She came home and she was just really struggling because she was coming into puberty, and as usually happens girls put on a little bit of weight during that time, which is what happens when you're trying to create hormones, your body is trying to change hormonally. So she was pretty freaked out by it.

So we had a long talk and fortunately, sadly, but I guess for her sake good, I have a long experience of body image issues, so I really sat down and I just had a brutally honest talk with her about this, and she was, she immediately started comparing herself to other people, immediately. That's what Instagram does. She was comparing herself. And I said, “Sweetheart, I just … We need to really help you understand something very clearly. Supermodels don't even look like supermodels.” She's like, “What are you talking about?”

I said, “In my day it was called air brushing, and it was not only common, it was sort of you had to do it to make everything look perfect. In your day it's much easier. You can do it on your phone yourself. There are apps to make yourself look thinner, apps to make yourself look prettier, apps to get rid of wrinkles, apps to … I mean, it's, now everyone is making everything perfect and that recently they were busted. So recently there was a big bust on all these models and all these people who looked perfect all the time, and you can actually see because if you're really paying attention to the photos, they're distorted where they made themselves look thinner.” She's like, “Oh my god, you're right.”

One of the things the exercises that I love, and jump in and chime in here on this, but was the exercise that I did where we actually just were brutally honest in a mean way, the same way that … I realize, like I didn't even realize how meanly I talked about myself sometimes, but we wrote down everything we hate about our bodies and then we did the turnaround, the four questions, is it true, is it absolutely true.

Dr Daniel Amen: Let's teach people that because this is so important, and I find myself in my office with patients doing it all the time when they come out with negative thoughts about their relationship, about their job, or about their body. So what's a common negative thought?

Tana Amen: My gosh, there are so many. Are you kidding me? I'm too fat. I'm not good enough. I'm not thin enough. I'm not pretty enough. I have too many wrinkles. For me one of the ones I discovered that I wasn't really that aware of until I did this exercise, I had so much resentment toward my body for sort of betraying me, so towards myself for betraying me and sort of ruining my whatever, I don't even know now because I'm so past that, but at the time I was really angry about it, and …

Dr Daniel Amen: And did you have, and I actually don't know the answer to this question, so I'm going out on a limb here, did you have resentment toward men for only wanting you for your body?

Tana Amen: You know that was mixed. That was very mixed because I was also smart enough to know that, yes, men … Men are automatically going to be attracted to pretty women, to women who take the time to groom themselves. They just are. I mean we know that. That's a fact. At the same time-

Dr Daniel Amen: It's an evolutionary thing.

Tana Amen: But at the same time women are taught to use it. So you can't just be mad. And there was a time probably periods where I was because I had been asked out several times by married men, husbands of people that were friends of mine, and that really irritated me. So I got really bitter and angry at one point, but then I started to realize, women are taught. Just like you guys are taught something very different from what we are taught. We are taught to use things a certain way. I really realized if I'm ever going to get past this, I have to take responsibility for it.

Dr Daniel Amen: Okay, let's go with a thought that you hate about your body.

Tana Amen: At the time that we did the exercise I was starting to … just at that age where I was starting to get wrinkles, and it was pissing me off. I did not like it. I'd always sort of looked younger than my age. Now all of a sudden I'm like, “Wow, I'm starting to look my age now.” Like, “What's going on?”

Dr Daniel Amen: So what's the thought that was torturing you?

Tana Amen: I look old.

Dr Daniel Amen: I look old. Okay. Here are the questions everybody.

Tana Amen: I won't be pretty. I won't …

Dr Daniel Amen: Write them down. Unless you're driving then please don't write them down. Just listen to this again when you're not driving. I look old. So the first question is, is that true.

Tana Amen: And I said yes.

Dr Daniel Amen: The idea behind this is not positive thinking. So neither Tana and I are fans-

Tana Amen: No, no, no, no, be be brutally honest-

Dr Daniel Amen: … of positive thinking more fans. We're fans of honest thinking. The second question is, can you absolutely know it's true?

Tana Amen: Well of course not because compared to who? George Burns? I mean who am I comparing it to?

Dr Daniel Amen: The young people listening don't know who George Burns is. Isn't that [crosstalk 00:11:22]

Tana Amen: Okay, well, he lived to be 100, okay?

Dr Daniel Amen: I know. It just breaks my heart. Okay, so the first question is, is it true. Yes. The second question is, can I absolutely know it's true I look old. Compared to what? So no, or, I don't know. The third question, I love this question, is how you feel when you believe the thought I look old?

Tana Amen: Angry. Angry, helpless to change it because we're aging, there's nothing you can do, right?

Dr Daniel Amen: Well, there's all sorts of things, as we see all these terrible pictures-

Tana Amen: Yeah, but that opens up a whole another … Right, that opens up a whole anther can of worms. I actually thought about doing that. I actually thought about doing my eyes. But we're going to talk about that later.

Dr Daniel Amen: So you feel, how do you feel when you believe I look old?

Tana Amen: Angry, very helpless to change anything because it's going to happen whether I can control it or not. I can't control it, whether I like it or not. So angry, helpless, resentful, and that's where the issues with men come in I think because men only like young, beautiful women, so that's another thought you have to work on, sad, depressed, just …

Dr Daniel Amen: Panicked?

Tana Amen: Ugly.

Dr Daniel Amen: Panicked?

Tana Amen: Yeah, a little panicked.

Dr Daniel Amen: So you end up doing things that maybe are not smart, not just … I'm not talking about you.

Tana Amen: In general people don't [inaudible 00:12:49] panicked.

Dr Daniel Amen: But in general, yeah. I want you to pay attention for a thought that is not absolutely true. It drives you to feel awful. The fourth question … So first one is is it true, the second one can I absolutely know it's true, the third one is how do I feel when I believe the thought I have, the fourth one is who would I be or how would I feel if I didn't have that thought?

Tana Amen: Yeah, this is my favorite, if I could not think that thought. People have a hard time with this because they always go but. No, you can't say but. Who would you be if you never were able to think the thought? I would be peaceful. I would be free. I would happy with myself. I would not care what people thought. I would be happy. Generally just free, happy, peaceful.

Dr Daniel Amen: Plus, people aren't thinking about you anyways.

Tana Amen: They're thinking about themselves.

Dr Daniel Amen: We talked about the 18, 40, 60 rule. When you're 18 you're worried about what everybody thinks of you. When you're 40 you don't give a damn what anybody thinks about you. When you're 60 you realize no one has been thinking about you at all. Then after you do the four questions, the last thing you do is you turn it around to its opposite. So what's the opposite of I look old?

Tana Amen: I don't look old.

Dr Daniel Amen: I don't look old. Right, don't go to narcissism which is, I look beautiful. No, that's not what these answers-

Tana Amen: Oh you can do that if that's, if you feel …

Dr Daniel Amen: Right, but what I try to get my patients to do is like let's just go to the opposite, and the opposite just is like but don't [inaudible 00:14:31]. I don't look old.

Tana Amen: And you need to come up with truth to support that. So they can be the tiniest … This is where people struggle too because they're like, “Well, but so on and so on said I look old.” No, no, no. They can be tiny. You looked good a month ago when you went to your sister's wedding, shower, baby shower, or whatever, and when you showed up someone took a picture of you, you looked amazing and people commented on it. Like it can be small. Like that day you looked good, you felt good about yourself. Whatever. It can be something small like that. Find some verification.

Dr Daniel Amen: So question the thoughts about your body and you won't be tortured as much. Now that doesn't mean you shouldn't do the right things for your body, and there …

Tana Amen: But you need to come up with three turnarounds too.

Dr Daniel Amen: So the turnaround is to the opposite, I don't look old, and then this is actually not to another person because you're doing it to yourself. What else do you think?

Tana Amen: So I don't look old. You can say I look youthful, so that would be one of them, I look youthful, and that's where you would go, “Well, I do feel youthful when,” like give yourself some way to support that. When do you feel young? When you're playing with your kids, when you're probably not when you're looking at Instagram. So when you're playing with your kids, when you're doing things that make you happy, when you feel satisfied with your life somehow you probably feel more youthful.

Dr Daniel Amen: And that's the trap, that's why the social media has bred depression in teenage girls because they're constantly comparing themselves to other people. Whenever you compare yourself and you don't measure up, your self-esteem just plummets. If I compared myself to someone who won a Nobel Prize, and because I haven't won a Nobel Prize, then that means, well, I'm no good. Or if I was into money and I'm like, “Well, I'm not as rich as Warren Buffet or Jeff Bezos, therefore I'm poor.” I mean it's insane, because there will always be somebody better than you whatever you're comparing them to, there will always be somebody worse than you. The question is do you love you for who you are?

Tana Amen: Well, a lot of people don't initially.

Dr Daniel Amen: Wow, and that's where these questions can be so helpful.

Tana Amen: One of the tricky parts is if you've got teenagers or you've got grand kids, they're struggling so badly right now with this, and girls can be vicious. I mean the whole mean girls syndrome peaks when girls are going through puberty. It's when it's the most vicious, the body shaming happens-

Dr Daniel Amen: Seventh, eights, nine grade

Tana Amen: Yeah, it's, bullying happens over body issues.

Dr Daniel Amen: In fact 14 years, 14.4, 14.4, so that's like 14 years and five months meanness in teenagers peaks. That's the worst time according to a new study.

Tana Amen: And there's several studies here that were just really interesting to me. One of them actually talks about, it's very different the way they talk about it, but I really liked it. There's a study, it was actually posted in Science Daily, Writing away the body image blues. I like it because it's a little different than what we just did, the exercise, which I find very powerful. What they did is they wrote a letter to themselves as though it were coming from a friend who loves them, someone who adores them. So they're not going to write them because if they talk negatively to themselves, but they write this letter as though from the perspective of someone who adores them and so who loves them. Writing it out somehow like the improvement was incredible. That was one I really liked.

This one I really love. If you're older, or even if you're younger, body image strongly linked to overall life satisfaction, and I have certainly found that to be true. It always has been the worst in my life when I've not been, when I've gone through stressful periods where I'm not feeling satisfied. Finding a way to ground yourself, that's why I love meditation and prayer so much, because finding a way to ground yourself and one of the exercises that I do with that and have always done with that is when I'm feeling frustrated about something physically, like when I couldn't … my energy was not working well after I had surgery recently, just I couldn't do what I wanted to do, and you start to get frustrated and you start to turn on yourself a little bit. My automatic thought that popped in my head is, “I'm just being lazy.” Okay, well how dumb is that? But I just had major surgery.

Dr Daniel Amen: Is that true? Can you absolutely know it's true?

Tana Amen: So right, it was the dumbest thought.

Dr Daniel Amen: How do you feel when you believe that thought? I torture myself and then I torture my husband-

Tana Amen: I torture everybody, yeah. So because I hate lying in bed.

Dr Daniel Amen: What would I be without the thought?

Tana Amen: Hate lying in bed.

Dr Daniel Amen: Just lie in bed. Get well.

Tana Amen: But one of the things I do is I pray and I meditate, and I meditate on literally I go through, I scan my body and I think my different organs, and there's something about that I love.

Dr Daniel Amen: You are just hysterical.

Tana Amen: Why?

Dr Daniel Amen: You are just hysterical. “I'm lazy,” healing from major surgery.

Tana Amen: I really liked that. One of the things I really like for dealing with teenagers, especially girls that are really struggling with this going through puberty, is doing the things that we learned as adults which took us 40 years, but start them really young, educate them about the truth, what's going on with Instagram, educate them about the importance of loving their bodies and taking physical care of themselves without becoming overly obsessed, and helping them to understand, put more value on other things. That's what we've done with Chloe, is really help her put value on other things. Does this have eternal value?

Dr Daniel Amen: And help them correct their negative thoughts, because if you don't do it when they're teenagers, they will take their ANTs, the automatic negative thoughts with them into adulthood. Many of us even 40 or 50 years later are still carrying around the negative thoughts that popped up when we went through puberty.

Tana Amen: It's so true. We don't even realize it.

Dr Daniel Amen: When we come back we're going to talk about eating disorders. It's a really important topic to talk about. But we're also going to talk about how you can have the best body. I mean, I'm like totally vain, and I want to be in the same size jeans I was in when I was in high school. I don't want to be overweight. So what's the balance-

Tana Amen: But you struggled with that a little bit.

Dr Daniel Amen: Between … Oh, I hate it. I hated it when I couldn't be at the weight I wanted. I don't want people to get to the don't worry be happy part where you don't care anymore about your body. I want you to be really serious about doing the right things, and oh, by the way, you'll be cured. Stay with us.

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