We are so darn hard on ourselves all the time!
About what we do ...
What we say ...
How successful we are …
What we look like ...
How we eat ...
We have been so conditioned to be our worst critics, to judge ourselves over and over again in the belief that it is the only way we will improve.
It is almost as if we think that by showing ourselves kindness, we will somehow become weak and let go of all responsibility for our actions, for our health.
But any time you spend in judgement will only keep you as part of the problem.
Self compassion is the most underrated tool when it comes to a healthy relationship with food and your body. In fact, you could say that more often than not, it is the missing ingredient.
Research shows the more understanding and forgiving we are of ourselves, the more motivated we are to do what we need to take care of ourselves, including eating well. We stop thinking that one ‘mistake’ means we have failed so we can be more consistent and avoid self-sabotage.
It also helps us avoid the emotional eating that often happens when we are berating ourselves and is essential when practising intuitive eating.
But what is self compassion?
According to researcher Kristin Neff, PhD, self-compassion consists of the following main components:
Self-kindness: Being kind and understanding toward yourself in instances of pain or failure as opposed to criticising yourself.
Common humanity: Recognising you are not alone and that your experiences are part of a larger human experience.
Mindfulness: practising a non-judgmental and curious state of mind that allows us to observe our thoughts, feelings, and experiences as they are, without trying to avoid or overly identify with them.
Without self-compassion, we are not open to learning from our experiences - we live in our heads.
When we begin to let go, we can start to identify our habits, patterns, triggers and needs when it comes to food. We can ask why things are happening as they are. As we do, we grow, become stronger and much more in tune with our bodies. We find the balance we have been craving for so long as we finally begin to truly understand ourselves.
How can you begin to practice self-compassion?
1. Stop the black and white thinking
Research demonstrates time and time again that people who take a rigid approach when it comes to food experience more anxiety, depression and weight fluctuations. Healthy eating is not about strict rules, it is about flexibility. This doesn’t mean taking zero responsibility but it does mean acknowledging that nutrition, and your health, is so much more than what you eat, it is how you eat.
It means having a variety of foods in your diet and sometimes the richer, more calorie dense options are healthier in that moment.
Let’s face it, no one eats cake for it’s nutritional profile. We eat it it for joy, pleasure and satisfaction. If it is your child’s birthday, eat the cake! Depriving yourself of the taste as well as the emotional connection will be more damaging in the long run, especially to your mental health.
Avoiding the foods you really want can also lead to you wanting it even more later which can result in overeating what you tried to avoid, even bingeing!
2. Listen to and honour your body’s want and needs
Listen to what your body wants and needs. Letting it guide you when making choices on what and when to eat is an act of self-compassion. Your body is always communicating with you and will be efficiently telling you ‘Yes, I want this’ or ‘No, this isn't what I need right now.’ But we have been so conditioned not to trust our own intuition, usually since childhood as in all their wisdom, our parents believed they knew what was best for us.
Learning to pay attention to your body in the present moment without judgment and respond to your natural hunger and fullness cues, as well as to your emotions, will take time but it is a worthwhile investment!
3. Reframe your negative self talk
We all do it!! We get stuck in cycles of negative self talk that lead us down the path or creating stories about ourselves and what will happen. Noticing this and equipping yourself with positive reframes can transform how you feel about yourself. You can read more about how to master this here.
4. Lean in to your emotions
Diet culture has made it very difficult for us to distinguish between physical and emotional hunger. Self-compassion encourages you to connect openly with your heart so that you can face your negative emotions and experiences with curiosity and care, not judgment and criticism.
When you can identify what you’re feeling emotionally, you then have the choice of whether or not to use food to comfort yourself. At times, you will. That is completely normal. It is not realistic to believe that you will never emotionally eat again, even those with the healthiest relationship with food and their bodies do. The power lies in being in charge of that choice and not making it every time you feel unsafe or insecure.
5. Write a letter
Imagine that you are writing to your best friend. Start by explaining some of the things in your life that you think may have set you up for your difficulties with eating right now and any worries or concerns you have about overcoming them. Explain what you need. Acknowledge that you are feeling uncomfortable right now and allow yourself to feel it. Treat yourself with the same kindness you would your dear friend.
6. Be patient with yourself
Above all, be patient and gentle with yourself. You have most likely spent a great deal of your life being unkind to your body and punishing yourself for your eating habits. You are now on a journey of self discovery and it is like training a new muscle. It takes time, practice and perseverance. Remember that you are perfectly imperfect and unique in every way and learn to love your amazing qualities.
If you would like help, support and guidance on your journey, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.