I have been thinking recently about self-compassion, having discovered the brilliant work of Kristen Neff, in the US. Her website https://self-compassion.org/ is a wonderful resource for learning about what self-compassion is, and is not.
It got me thinking about how self-compassion is probably the most common theme across all my coaching – disordered eating, whole-life wellness, weight loss and mid-life transitioning. I am passionate about bringing awareness to the way women talk to themselves, to notice the inner critic, to stop beating themselves up emotionally.
In this blog though I am going to focus on self-compassion and the overeating disorders.
THE 3 FOUNDATIONS OF SELF-COMPASSION and OVER- EATING
1. Self-kindness – I have yet to come across an over-eater who did not dislike themselves for their eating habits, to put it mildly.
When you think about it, how does this help? When we are criticised, does that make us feel good, and make positive changes? The opposite. Yet women I know do not seem to see self-criticism as damaging as criticism from others. I believe they should. Imagine this scenario –
Beth eats a packet of biscuits really quickly and in secret. She hides the wrapper from her family, tries to act normally (which is hard because the biscuits have raised her blood sugars, now her heart is pounding, and she is feeling anxious). Within minutes of finishing the biscuits her thoughts turn to
‘I can’t believe I did this again, how can I let myself down like this? I disgust myself, I are fat, greedy, and useless. And I have blown it for the rest of the day, doesn’t matter what I eat now. Tomorrow I HAVE to do better otherwise I am going to get so huge’.
Contrast this with
‘OK so I have used biscuits again to soothe myself. I know it isn’t ideal, but I have good reason to have felt so upset earlier. I might not want my ‘go-to’ comfort to be food, but in the heat of the moment today that is what I did, and I accept that now. Think I might go for a quick walk, get out of the kitchen, clear my head so I can think calmly. Tomorrow is another day’.
See what I mean? If you have been in this scenario has telling yourself off actually ever really made a lasting difference?
What if you talked to yourself as if you were talking to your best friend – difficult I know to make this change – but imagine how much nicer life would be if you were actually on your own side?
2. Connection to others (common humanity) – when we are distressed it is easy to think that we are the only ones going through it. Overeating disorders such as binge eating can bring tremendous shame to a sufferer, and behaviours are usually secret as a result. So, it can be helpful to think that, even in the worst depths of a binge or post-binge, many people are going through the same thing. You are not alone. Therefore, support groups work for all kinds of addictions, it helps to share stories, hear from others. That connection to other humans is vital as part of the healing process. And this is why coaching or talking therapy exists – to hear and connect with the client.
And, connection to others, or rather lack of it, is often a trigger for disordered eating in the 1st place. Feeling lonely, even when surrounded by people, goes against a fundamental human need to connect, and share. This is why recovery coaching looks at the client’s whole life, not just their eating. Having activities, groups, tribes, or just that 1 special friend to confide in, is a massive help.
3. Mindfulness and awareness – many overeaters are unable to feel, or deal with uncomfortable emotions. They use the physical act of eating to push down food, block the emotions, distract from them, and self-soothe. Some emotional eaters are aware of this, some are not. In the heat of the binge moment mindfulness is absent. In fact it is the opposite of mindfulness. If you consider yourself an emotional eater, I will put money on the fact that you frantically overeat when you are distracting yourself in another way at the same time – watching TV, on social media, driving ……
With clients I work on bringing awareness to what they are eating, and what they are thinking or feeling when over-eating. All feelings, good or bad, are to be acknowledged and accepted. No judgement. This is hard, no doubt about it. It takes time. There are many tools to help though. A key part to this work is working out what is really needed to help at that point in time, as food is never the answer.
So, learning self-compassion is incredibly useful to recovery from over-eating. It might take a while, it might be reversing habits of a lifetime, but the best thing is you can chip away at a little bit every day.
See Kristen’s website for blogs, resources, and courses.
If I can help you with your journey to self-compassion, please get in touch. I offer a free 30-minute phone or zoom call, with no obligation to sign up.