Self-Compassion: The Antidote to Emotional Overeating
- Category: Holidays and Special Occasions
Thanksgiving is upon us. Will you be spending more time in front of the mirror asking, "Do I look fat?" My guest blogger, Jean Fain, psychotherapist, teacher and author of The Self-Compassion Diet speaks to us today about giving yourself a diet of self compassion.
At this time of the year such a diet is more important than ever and will make your holidays a more joyful experience for you and the people around you. I'm delighted to offer you the wisdom and compassion of my respected colleague, Jean Fain.“Do I look fat?” That is the question despairing dieters from Boston to Buenos Aires have been known to ask when their jeans feel uncomfortably tight. If you find yourself entertaining that no-win question this fall, you’d do far better to entertain a lot more compassion.
The scientific evidence and my clinical experience both tell me you can lose weight and gain health and happiness … without dieting, but what do you imagine would happen if you took a kinder view of yourself? Read on and see what a difference self-compassion makes!
Why’s that? Because the harsh judgment that inspires the “do-I-look-fat” question distorts body image more cruelly than a fun-house mirror. From this distorted viewpoint, it’s impossible to get an accurate assessment in the mirror or from significant others who, until they wise up, answer the question literally and pay for it dearly. Some significant others learn to provide reassurance or withhold their opinion, but reassurance and silence prove less than helpful because they fail to answer the real, unarticulated question: “Can you spare some compassion?”
I developed the “Compassionate Glasses” visualization to help my clients with eating issues give themselves the compassion they desperately need to prevent the self-criticism and negative feelings that can fuel emotional overeating. Self-compassion, it turns out, is the missing ingredient in every diet and most other weight-loss plans.
Most plans revolve around deprivation and neglect. You’re supposed to stick to the plan no matter what. If you’re starving, keep eating tiny portions. If you’re exhausted, keep moving — no pain, no gain. Going on vacation? Keep counting … calories, carbs, points. It’s not a very compassionate approach, it’s not very effective and it’s no fun.
But when you treat yourself with self-compassion — like a friend or a loved one — you’re more apt to eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full, rest when you’re tired and move when you feel energized. When you do that, you lose weight naturally. (That is, if you need to lose weight.)
Informed by exciting, new research on self-compassion and eating issues, the guided visualization you’re about to learn works better than antidepressants — no negative side effects and all positive health benefits. That’s right, compassion-enhancing practices like this one not only help you slim down, but lighten up your mood and outlook, focus attention and enhance concentration, and reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes and other serious illnesses.
Compassionate Glasses: A Guided Visualization
When you’re ready, settle into a comfortable position and a quiet breathing rhythm. Now put on a pair of imaginary glasses with compassionate lenses, and picture yourself gazing into a crystal clear, full-length mirror. Take a good look at yourself. You’re glowing with natural energy. As you drink in your reflection, allow compassion to wash over you, refreshing and relaxing you. Whether you’re clothed or naked, notice what a difference compassion makes. It’s easier, isn’t it, to appreciate your health and vitality with loving eyes? It’s hard to ignore the marvelous design of the human body, your body. Your inner beauty. Your head and heart. Your innate ability to think, to feel, to love. It’s only natural to stand tall, with dignity and confidence.
It is not that you must see total perfection when you look at your body and being with compassionate eyes. You can see beauty in your imperfections. Or at the very least, you can view your body with more acceptance, less criticism. You can see your least favorite body parts with the pride and gratitude of a new mother. You are grateful for all that’s right: toes and fingers, eyes and ears, lips that can smile, a being that can enjoy all that life has to offer.
In this glorious light, your body is undeniably a temple, worthy of care and protection, deserving of delicious, nutritious food. Some body fat is necessary: it keeps you warm and comfortable. It sustains you in sickness and in health. Your compassionate lenses are without distortion. You can see that as clearly as you can see your true shape.
You can see overeating for the sign that it is: the need to pay attention. To pay attention to how you feel, what you need, if you want support. Everyone overeats sometimes; it’s normal. If you notice you’ve been overeating too often, it’s clear in this light that something’s asking for your attention. Whatever’s asking for your attention, it’s definitely worth attending to. Of course, you can always eat better, exercise more regularly. That’s part of taking good care of yourself. But it’s not the whole picture.
You can see the big picture with your compassionate glasses. You’ve got perspective. What stands out is how pleasing it is to view yourself through kinder, gentler eyes; to embody a greater sense of calm, well-being, and patience. There is a wonderful ease that comes with greater self-acceptance and a more balanced viewpoint.
Because you enjoy this viewpoint, you might like to prescribe yourself an imaginary pair of contact lenses. Lenses that allow you to take this warmer, more benevolent view of yourself with you.
Thank you, Jean. I'm getting my self-compassion glasses immediately, and I advise my readers to do the same. I like the idea of the lens because when we feel the beginning of self-criticism we can "cleanse the lens" for compassion clarity. What do you think, readers? How can you use self-compassion glasses to help you through Thanksgiving?
Jean Fain is a Harvard Medical School-affiliated psychotherapist specializing in eating issues, and the author of “The Self-Compassion Diet.” For more information, visit Jean's website. (Joshua Touster photo)