The Other Secret to Eating Healthy: Self-Compassion

The Other Secret to Eating Healthy: Self-Compassion

We start off with the best intentions to change our health behaviors — to eat better. We know meal planning is the number one secret to eating healthy and how it saves time and money. We know it leaves a positive impact on our families and helps us feel awesome from the inside out.

Oh, we know.

Yet, we get derailed by life’s distractions, give in to temptations and then beat ourselves up over it. Sometimes we buy lunch because we don’t feel like eating what we brought. Work keeps us late and the kids are cranky so we order pizza. Sometimes I pick up two enormous cupcakes after a really rough nursing shift.

How many times do we play up on the “treat yo self” mantra only to face a rebound of self-inflicted negativity?

Self-Compassion Photo via StockSnap

Often times we ask ourselves why we just can’t get it right. But we forget, it’s not so much about our missteps as it is our reactions to these perceived failures. Research shows the more forgiving and understanding we are of ourselves, the more likely we are to take better care of ourselves.

Defined, self-compassion means three things:

  1. Self-kindness: being nice to yourself when the going gets rough
  2. Common humanity: realizing you’re not alone and that everyone makes mistakes
  3. Mindfulness: being aware and non-judgmental of your thoughts and feelings; not getting caught up in feelings of guilt, shame and frustration

Those who are more self-compassionate tend to engage more in health-promoting behaviors. It fosters resilience in the face of illness and helps us cope with stress. Self-compassion can alleviate intense feelings of shame and body image dissatisfaction experienced by those with eating disorders that would otherwise escalate into traumatic shame memories and negatively impact on personal identity.

So much good happens when we love ourselves.

According to the Center for Mindful Eating, here's how we can add a healthy dose of self-compassion to our meals:

  1. Give up black-and-white thinking. Embrace the fact that healthy eating is flexible and can include a wide variety of foods. And yes, sometimes that includes pizza or a big fat cupcake.
  2. Practice being aware of how you talk to yourself when eating. Do you start admonishing yourself for eating too much or eating specific types of foods? Do you consider yourself a failure when things go off course? Become aware of these thoughts.
  3. Make a mental note or actually write down responses to those thoughts that you can “turn on” when you hear yourself beginning to engage in negative self-talk.
  4. Practice those responses every time you hear yourself talking negatively to yourself about your eating. Even carry a notebook if you feel it helps. Just remember, the first time you do something differently will be the hardest. But it gets easier every time thereafter.

A lack of self-compassion can stop us from learning about our eating habits, patterns and triggers. By embracing a forgiving and compassionate approach, we can foster a healthy relationship with food and especially, with ourselves.

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