All about self-compassion in eating: including the benefits, how to practice it, and practical applications, so you can feel better in your body and around food.
What is Self-Compassion
Dr. Kristin Neff, a lead researcher in self-compassion, states, “Self-compassion entails treating oneself with kindness, recognizing one’s shared humanity, and being mindful when considering negative aspects of oneself...
self-compassion does not entail self-evaluation or comparisons with others. Rather, it is a kind, connected, and clear-sighted way of relating to ourselves even in instances of failure, perceived inadequacy, and imperfection.”
A study* from Homan, et. al. states, "Individuals high in self-compassion are mindful, kind, and nurturing toward themselves during situations that threaten their adequacy, while recognizing that being imperfect is part of 'being human.'"
According to Kristin Neff, there are three components to self-compassion:
- Self-kindness vs. Self-judgment
- Common humanity vs. Isolation
- Mindfulness vs. Over-identification
Benefits of Self-Compassion
There are multiple benefits of practicing self-compassion, and they aren't just for eating. For instance, self-compassion promotes positive mental health and can help you reach your goals.
Here are some of the many rewards:
- supports motivation
- enhances feelings of self-worth
- reduces self-handicapping
- less afraid of failure, less affected if fails happen
- fosters positive emotions like optimism, wisdom, curiosity & personal initiative
- improvements in body dissatisfaction, body shame, and self-worth
- lower body surveillance and a greater appreciation
Additionally, a study was done with older adults. It found that self-compassion protects them from developing mental health and sleep disturbance symptoms. Plus, it enhances their life satisfaction, self-care, and usual activities.
Why Self-Compassion Matters in Eating
Self-Compassion matters because it guides you in making choices that align with your body's wants and needs.
It helps relieve you of the pressure of needing to eat a specific way to be "healthy" or to eat the "right" food. And practicing self-compassion supports you in making more health-promoting behavior choices.
Intuitive Eating and Self-Compassion
Self-Compassion relates to intuitive eating by helping you tune into your body's cues. This helps you determine when you're hungry or full, instead of using outside rules because you feel negative pressure from yourself.
Similarly, it is practically impossible to make a caring decision about what you will eat or how you will treat yourself if you are acting based on shame, guilt, fear, or dislike/hatred.
When you are practicing self-compassion, it is much easier to make choices that respect your body and self than it is when you are trying to control yourself.
How to Practice Self-Compassion
To practice self-compassion, try to validate, comfort, soothe, protect, provide, or motivate yourself. Next, consider the three components of self-compassion. Then, treat yourself like you'd treat a loved one.
💕Consider what you need right now:
💕Notice if you are judging, isolating yourself, or over-identifying. Try remembering self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness (the three components of self-compassion).
💕Treat yourself like you'd treat a friend or a child in a loving way.
Components of Self-Compassion
To dive deeper into the three components of self-compassion, let's break each down into their opposites and how you can counteract the negative effects by using self-compassion.
Self-kindness means showing yourself care and respect regardless of your situation. The opposite of self-kindness is...
- Are you being critical?
- Are you being harsh on yourself? (This is not the same thing as setting boundaries or protecting yourself)
- Example: You think that you are bad for eating a donut at breakfast, and you feel really guilty for eating lunch.
- It's nice to enjoy a donut when you want since you love them.
- You are allowed to eat whatever food you want because you are in charge of your body, and no one else is allowed to tell you what is "right" or "wrong" for it.
- If you didn't do anything to hurt someone to get the donut, there's no need to feel bad.
- Your body needs consistent nourishment throughout the day, so you are showing it respect and care by eating a meal that you enjoy.
Common humanity is recognizing that suffering is a part of being a human, and you are not alone. The opposite of common humanity is...
- Do you feel like you are completely alone?
- Are you forgetting that others are having this experience or something similar too?
- Example: You feel like you are the only one who can't stick to the diet, and it's your fault that you have no willpower.
Try Common Humanity:
- Almost everyone that goes on a diet is unable to stick to it. Diets & lifestyle plans are not designed to be sustainable because you must constantly rely on their rules to succeed.
- Plans are not created with the intention for you to keep off the weight, and most people usually regain it back plus more. In fact, there are zero scientific studies that show an effective, sustainable, and safe method to lose weight.
- The diet & wellness industry is a $70+ billion industry, and it makes money off your failures. Clearly, you're not the only one, and there are many others likely experiencing similar feelings as you.
Mindfulness is being aware of the situation and open to your feelings in the moment. The opposite of mindfulness is...
- Are you placing your identity or worthiness in this?
- Do you feel all consumed by these feelings or thoughts?
- Example: You feel like you are not good enough because you do not have the "ideal" body.
- Our world makes it really challenging to feel good in a body that isn't ideal (whatever "ideal" means for that moment since its definition has changed throughout the years).
- You are led to believe that you aren't good enough if you have a fat or larger body and that it is your fault for being this size and your responsibility for changing it. Otherwise, you don't deserve as much respect.
- This is entirely false. Your worth does not change based on your body. You deserve the same amount of respect no matter your body size or weight.
- Remind yourself that it's perfectly understandable you feel this way since you've been taught that having the "ideal" body is how you should be. It's normal that you'd be scared to have a body that gets made fun of, discriminated against, and judged.
- Can you pay attention to the feelings you have? Can you remind yourself of the truth? Try to see yourself beyond the way you look.
Here are a few examples of how you might be speaking to yourself and how you can reframe it to be more self-compassionate by seeing it as responding to a situation for someone you love.
Eating More than Usual
You ate an entire bag of chips... see it as your 9-year old son ate all the chips.
- You probably wouldn't chastise him for eating 7 servings of chips.
- Instead, you might ask him if he is hungry and see if there is a more filling & satisfying option than chips.
- Afterward, you might ask him to consider what his hunger signals are, so in the future, he knows when he wants a meal and when a snack would satisfy him.
- Next time, he could have a sandwich with chips or pair the chips with a dip, salsa, or guacamole.
Clothes Not Fitting
You can no longer fit into your jeans from a few years ago... see it as your 12-year old daughter is upset for not fitting into the jeans she wore when she was 8-years old.
- Would you say "well, you need to go workout and start a new diet... you're eating too much, and your body is not allowed to change"? Probably not.
- You would probably remind her that our bodies change and grow as we age, so it is a perfectly normal and healthy experience to need different clothes & sizes as you go throughout life.
- Maybe you ask her to think about all she has learned and experienced since she was 8-years old and remind her that it is something to celebrate that she has grown both physically and mentally.
If being kind, caring, or compassionate is too much right now, simply try having a more neutral attitude towards yourself.
You don't need to be all-loving, all the time towards yourself. That would be exhausting and nearly impossible, especially since we live in a world that is constantly telling you that you must weigh and eat less to be respected.
Simply work to have more neutral thoughts and try to add in some that are caring, validating, comforting, soothing, protecting, providing, or motivating.
Want more on feeling better in your body and less stressed when eating? Sign up for the waitlist for my course: The Path to Living Well to help you transform your relationship to your food and body. [Plus, you'll get $100 off the price when it launches!]
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Homan, K. J., & Sirois, F. M. (2017). Self-compassion and physical health: Exploring the roles of perceived stress and health-promoting behaviors. Health Psychology Open, 4(2), Article 2055102917729542.
Kim, C., & Ko, H. (2018). The impact of self-compassion on mental health, sleep, quality of life and life satisfaction among older adults. Geriatric nursing (New York, N.Y.), 39(6), 623–628. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gerinurse.2018.06.005
Babenko, O., & Oswald, A. (2019). The roles of basic psychological needs, self-compassion, and self-efficacy in the development of mastery goals among medical students.Medical teacher,41(4), 478-481.
Barczak, N., & Eklund, R. C. (2018). The moderating effect of self-compassion on relationships between performance and subsequent coping and motivation. International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 1-13.
Barutçu Yıldırım, F., & Demir, A. (2019). Self-Handicapping Among University Students: The Role of Procrastination, Test Anxiety, Self-Esteem, and Self-Compassion. Psychological reports, 0033294118825099.
Albertson, Ellen & Neff, Kristin & Dill-Shackleford, Karen. (2014). Self-Compassion and Body Dissatisfaction in Women: A Randomized Controlled Trial of a Brief Meditation Intervention. Mindfulness. 6. 10.1007/s12671-014-0277-3.
Beekman, J. B., Stock, M. L., & Howe, G. W. (2017). Stomaching rejection: Self-compassion and self-esteem moderate the impact of daily social rejection onrestrictive eating behaviours among college women.Psychology & Health, 1-23.
Cox AE, Ullrich-French S, Tylka TL, McMahon AK. The roles of self-compassion, body surveillance, and body appreciation in predicting intrinsic motivation for physical activity: Cross-sectional associations, and prospective changes within a yoga context. Body Image. 2019;29:110‐117. doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2019.03.002