It’s been a long day full of stress from the holiday. As you reach your breaking point, you grab for the pie and ice cream, but before you know it, you’ve devoured two slices and half a pint of ice cream. As you realize how much you’ve mindlessly eaten, the shame and guilt burst to the surface. Your mind begins to race…
“No wonder you can't lose weight.”
“That dress is going to look awful on you for the family get-together.”
“You’re such a failure….”
The list of negative thoughts goes on. You might respond by eating more, or you might travel to bed; either way, ultimately defeated.
Most of us have done this at some point, and we know we need to break the cycle, especially if it’s repetitive and frequent. Conventional thinking says that if we could just follow the diet and exercise, everything would get better, and we’d finally be happy. But, what if the key to breaking the cycle didn’t start with what you put in your mouth, but what you put into your heart?
Science is finding that the key to adopting a healthy lifestyle, including a nutritious diet, is mastering self-compassion. Self-compassion is best defined as the ability to show compassion, love, concern, and acceptance for yourself, especially when you have failed (Good Therapy, 2019). Self-compassion is an essential aspect of balancing intuitive eating with a gentle nutrition approach to mealtime. Studies are focusing on self-kindness, recognizing your humanity, and mindfulness. Let’s look at each of these and see how they can help us build self-compassion to help with intuitive eating.
Self-kindness is the ability to reframe your harsh criticism of yourself (Rahimi-Ardabili, Reynolds, and Vartanian, 2017). Reframing may look like not talking cruelly to yourself when you feel you made a mistake. When we are stuck in diet culture, slipping up on our diet typically results in thoughts like, “I’m such a failure. I’ll always be fat and ugly.” However, if you use self-kindness, you might say, “It’s ok to experience days like today, but one night of not eating healthy is not going to make a big difference. I need to find a way to self-soothe that makes me feel good.” Many of us believe we have to be hard on ourselves to achieve anything, but that doesn’t turn out to be the case. When we speak to ourselves lovingly, we invest in ourselves to be committed to achieving the goals we have (Saulsman, Campbell, and Sng, 2017).
Another area we are exploring is recognizing your own humanity (Rahimi-Ardabili, Reynolds, Vartanian, 2017). No one is perfect, but we may hold ourselves to some ideal of perfection. We all experience pain and suffering. According to Dialectical Behavior Therapy, the key to getting over the pain we suffer is accepting it and finding a way to improve the situation (Linehan, 1993). Talking negatively to ourselves or punishing ourselves by exercising more or skipping meals does not improve the situation. It makes the situation worse. In fact, it makes it much worse. We keep the pain and suffering going because we make ourselves the enemy instead of working with our bodies (Biasetti, 2018). We begin to associate healthy exercise as a punishment making us far less likely to do it regularly. Skipping meals will mess up our body function and create a scenario where the body thinks it is starving, and we will overeat again the next time we eat (Tribole and Resch, 2020). Recognizing that everyone eats a wide variety of foods helps us build more trust in our ability to navigate the world of nutritious eating.
Lastly, mindfulness is crucial for self-compassion work (Rahimi-Ardabili, Reynolds,
Vartanian, 2017). Mindfulness helps us to make decisions clearly, considering all things. Engaging in mindfulness exercises helps us develop intuition, rebuild connections with ourselves, and express more self-love. Mindfulness exercises also allow us to self-soothe, ground ourselves, and relax. We can turn to this when we are stressed to make decisions that align with our goals and values.
Intuitive eating can be mysterious at times. We say we want to eat what we want, but we also want to eat healthily. It seems to be two extremes that need balance. Self-compassion helps us to balance these extremes. Self-compassion also allows us to consider our goals and make more sensible choices that align with food freedom and awareness of our bodies. We can eat a piece of pie, enjoy it, feel satisfaction and fullness, and not berate ourselves for living a balanced life. Intuitive eating doesn’t work without self-compassion.
In the following few blogs, we’ll discuss some ways you can build self-compassion! Be sure to check out the Facebook group for Rediscover Health to participate in the self-compassion challenges for December!
Biasetti, A. (2018). “The Use of Self-Compassion in Eating Disorder Recovery”.
Center for Mindful Self-Compassion. https://centerformsc.org/the-use-of
self-compassion-in-eating-disorder-recovery/Good Therapy. (2019). “Self-Compassion”. https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-
Linehan, M. (1993). Cognitive Behavioral Treatment of Borderline Personality
Disorder. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
Rahimi, A., Reynolds, R., and Vartanian, L. (2017). “A Systemic Review of the
Efficacy Of Intervention that Aim to Increase Self-Compassion on Nutrition
Eating, Eating Behaviours, Body Weight, and Body Image”. Mindfulness.
Saulsman, L., Campbelle, B., and Sng, A. (2017). Understanding Self-Compassion.
Western Australia: Centers for Clinical Intervention.
Tribole, E. and Resch, E. (2020). Intuitive Eating: 4th Edition, A Revolutionary Anti-
Diet Approach. St. Martin’s Essentials.