Updated: Feb 24, 2020
“I am fat, it is my fault, I lack self-control. Urgh, I did it again, I could not resist a croissant! From tomorrow – strict diet. Tea with nothing for dinner – this is what I truly deserve. I am not worthy, I am lazy, I am bad!”
– a typical self-talk of a dieter.
“You should be more kind to yourself!”
– just an empty sound for those who are into self-loathing because of inability to stick to the diet.
Apparently, it is NOT an empty sound! The importance of self-compassion for finding the way to food moderation is now backed by science (and it is not a recent discovery). Feeling bad about ourselves undermines our ability to cope with the problem!
Negative self-talk is very common in people who want to lose weight but are trapped in starve-binge/all-or-nothing/yo-yo diet cycle. Could you ever imagine, that self-criticism is one of the reasons you overeat?
Self-criticism is evil
I want you to understand that you are not guilty of your extra weight and you are not alone with this problem. Here are factors to consider.
Childhood habits, traumas, experiences often cause problems with overeating. You are not responsible for that.
Humans evolved like this – we are wired to eat food when we see it and our body and brain will do the best to avoid weight loss.
The food industry, stressful life, financial pressure – modern society creates excellent conditions to reach for comfort foods.
People with any amount of extra weight should not be blamed for it in the majority of the cases. Being overweight is not about greed, laziness, lack of willpower, lack of control or lack of effort – it’s complex.
Have you met people whose professional achievements are exceptional and yet they fail to lose and/or maintain weight? I know lots of them. Do you think these people have no self-control? This is because our relationships with food have nothing to do with self-control or willpower. Proven by neuroscience.
What is the solution then?
It involves treating yourself with the same kindness, concern, and support you’d show to a good friend. Some people think being self-compassionate is too ‘touchy-feely’, and will lead to laziness, self-indulgence or self-pity. Rest assured, self-compassion is none of these things.
How does self-compassion work to cope with overeating?
Self-compassion involves recognizing mistakes without becoming overwhelmed with negative emotion, thereby increasing self-regulation in the future. Studies have shown that even a modest dose of self-compassion can help prevent the destructive self-criticism and negative feelings that can fuel overeating.
Overeating is not our fault, but we can take responsibility for it and gain control of it, too, if we are kind to ourselves along the way. On one hand, self-compassion could be viewed as an excuse for over-indulgence; on the other hand, research suggests that self-compassion leads people to forgive themselves for their actions but does not lead them to deny responsibility for those actions.
What to do next?
Self-compassion is not cure-it-all, rather it is an element of a complex puzzle in our mind. And you can’t change an attitude towards yourself at the flick of a switch – it requires time, hard work and (self-) education.
But what you can do immediately is paying attention to judgemental thoughts towards yourself and … others. If you yourself do not have problems with extra-weight, are you judgemental about those who haven’t become ‘the best version of themselves’ yet?
An article about self-compassion in general by Prof. Mark Leary: Learning to be kind to yourself when you (inevitably) make mistakes could have a remarkable effect on your happiness
Kenneth Goss, PhD. Must read if you struggle with emotional eating. Bear in mind he is not qualified in nutrition, only in psychology, therefore do not use this book as a source of nutrition guidance: The Compassionate Mind Approach to Beating Overeating’
And a 8-mln-views-TED-talk by my favourite author, Judson Brewer, who uses loving kindness as one of key tools in his therapies: A simple way to break a bad habit