The Impact of Self-Disgust on Keto, Banting and Weight Loss

By Victoria Webster (Clinical Psychologist)

Everyone knows that dreaded moment when it is time to take out the rubbish bin. I don’t think anyone particularly likes this chore but, at least once a week (sometimes more), this moment rolls around. I am sure you can picture the very full bin that you try to open carefully with the hopes that none of the sticky contents — slimy egg shells or bits of old food — will fall out. Sometimes there are a few flies buzzing around or inside the bin which adds to the stomach-churning nature of this experience. Then, of course, there is that smell. That distinct garbage smell that almost seems to give off heat (yuck). Your whole face wrinkles up and you turn up your nose, clenching your jaw and trying not to breathe as you think to yourself: “this is disgusting”.

Now, imagine having this exact same reaction when you look in the mirror… or think about your own body. We call this reaction self-disgust and, if you take a minute to think about it, your body should be one of the last things that disgusts you.

The sad fact is that self-disgust, a very negative and self-attacking way of thinking about yourself, is a very common experience for a lot of people and it has serious implications.

Disgust is one of our primary emotions, just like anger, happiness and sadness. We were designed to be disgusted or repulsed by certain smells, creatures, situations or behaviours. From an evolutionary standpoint, disgust helps keep us away from rotten or poisonous food and also scary, sticky creatures with lots of legs and wings that might bite us or harm us; disgust helps us protect ourselves. It can also signal to us when certain behaviours go against morals and values which are important to us. Of course, disgust also helps us to know when it is time to take the rubbish out of the house so nobody will get sick. 

The problem comes in when disgust is turned inwards and becomes an attack on ourselves and our bodies. Self-disgust develops from you not liking your body, to being repulsed by it, and you can imagine how much shame and negative self-talk goes along with this. Not only can self-disgust cause significant emotional distress but it can also be predictive of depression, anxiety and even post-traumatic stress disorder. This is serious. 

Unfortunately, you may feel disgusted by your own body or behaviours (e.g., “I am repulsed by how much I eat”) and this causes a very stressful and difficult relationship with eating and food. It may also make you feel unworthy of love, support and care. It makes it difficult to be present in your skin and figure out the best way to look after yourself. It is like wading into the bin, sitting inside and breathing in the smell as deeply as possible – this is not pleasant. 

Working on self-disgust can be a starting point to repairing your relationships with eating and food and it can begin with learning to like your body (even just a little bit). If you miss this step, maintaining a healthy body weight and lifestyle will become almost impossible. 

7 Ways to Cure Self-Disgust 

#1 – Speak to yourself like you would speak to others

If you speak to yourself like you are disgusting, you are going to believe that you are disgusting. It is all about perception. Imagine a friend of yours eats a dozen cupcakes and calls you up and asks for help. What will you likely say to him/her? “Well yup, I can see the fat already forming all over you and in fact I feel quite repulsed by what you have just told me. Honestly you should punish yourself for that!” I am pretty sure you would not speak to a friend that way. You might understand that it was a mistake and not cause for hatred and long-lasting regret. Then ask yourself: why do I give myself permission to speak to myself that way? Time to catch this conversation with yourself and change it.

#2 – Practice self-compassion for perceived imperfections

Be mindful of unhelpful and self-destructive thoughts. Try to notice when you are being judgemental of yourself, your body or even a specific body part. Yes, it may not be perfect (what is perfect anyway?), but it still serves a purpose and a function and, besides, imperfection is what makes us human (we are not robots produced in a factory). If your perception of your body does not start to change, becoming healthier and keeping weight off will be very challenging. This change starts with respecting your body; this doesn’t mean you have to love it, or even like it right now, but your body is a part of you and treating it with respect and care is a good start. Try to practice one action of self-care a day.

#3 – Let Your Body Do Its Job

Sometimes we treat our bodies like a collection of body parts that just hang off of us. We forget that our bodies are doing what they need to do to keep us alive. It is not always our bodies we need to change, but how we perceive our bodies; they do a bunch of amazing things all the time and it is easy to forget that because of how caught up in our own thoughts we are. Talk about judging a book by its cover.

#4 – Remember your inner child

That voice in your head, the one that tells you that you are disgusting, it is often the voice of family members or the influential voice of diet culture that surrounds all of us. Every time you are hard on yourself you are echoing those unhealthy voices. Think of yourself as a small child who was defenceless against these voices and try to have empathy for that little person. Start taking care of that child inside of you that wrongly learnt their body was disgusting. Keep a picture of yourself as a child somewhere (I have it on the fridge) close by so you can remember to be kind to yourself.

#5 – Assess your visual diet

Do not let social media, advertising and marketing dictate how you feel about your body. Just like you can control what you put into your body, you can control what you put into your mind. Stay away from messages that are going to promote self-disgust and self-loathing because these messages are alive and well and we are bombarded by them on a daily basis. Say no to the messages that do not promote a healthy relationship with that body of yours.

#6 – Practice an attitude of gratitude

Having gratitude changes everything. I do not necessarily mean saying thank you, I mean living with the attitude that every situation is a lesson and every challenge brings gifts. You may not like your body right now, but you can certainly be grateful for having one at all. If you can embrace an attitude of gratitude, there is very little space for self-disgust. Write down one thing each day that you are grateful for; the smallest of actions can be a big step forward.

#7 – Do not do it alone!

You can receive support by joining the Hero Group Support Program — the secret is in the name because you are the hero in these groups! Self-disgust promotes a lot of isolation and loneliness and so, to counteract it, you need people around you to help you through it. Imagine being a hero to yourself and others rather than being disgusted by who you are and what you look like. This change is possible.

Next time you smell that old rubbish bin smell or see something that makes your face crinkle up, let it be a reminder to be kind and compassionate to yourself, and that self-disgust has no place in your life. It is only harmful and makes starting to like your body (and ultimately work on your health) very difficult. 

Be grateful for and respect the body you are in, even if you think it is imperfect. After all, your body is the very thing that carries you around and allows you to open that bin and take out the rubbish. Oh, and while you are at it, chuck in self-disgust and never look back.