If you were asked to list everything you think you should, could, or might do to take control of your overeating or emotional eating, I’m betting you could fill a few lines (or perhaps a few pages). We’ve all heard more advice about healthy eating than we can possibly digest. But there’s one key strategy that most people completely miss. And it’s too bad, because when applied correctly, this one strategy – self-compassion – not only helps curb overeating, it makes just about everything better.
Self-compassion is a MUST DO strategy for taking control of emotional overeating.
Kristin Neff, a psychologist and self-compassion expert at the University of Texas, defines self-compassion as extending compassion to yourself in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure or suffering. She outlines three key components of self-compassion: self-kindness, common humanity (recognizing that suffering and personal failure are simply parts of being human), and mindfulness – the ability to observe negative thoughts and emotions with non-judgmental openness.
The components of self-compassion are quite a contrast from how most women treat their relationship with food. For most, an episode of emotional eating or overeating is followed by a side order of frustration, a helping of guilt or shame, and a dollop of name calling (“I’m so stupid/fat/lazy/undisciplined!”). The powerlessness and bad feelings often lead to finishing the rest of the cookies and an extra helping of leftover lasagna.
Want to shorten an episode of overeating? Try applying self-compassion.
Researchers found that women who were encouraged to eat something unhealthy (a donut) ate less candy afterward when they were encouraged to view their behavior from the perspective of self-compassion (“Everyone eats unhealthy from time to time.”) instead of self-judgment. The use of self-compassion led to more moderation and healthier choices after the donut was eaten.
Have you ever considered how many calories are consumed because women are frustrated with themselves about an earlier eating choice? I’m willing to bet that the calories eaten “after you’ve blown it” often add up to more than the original misstep.
Here’s another reason a healthy dose of self-compassion can improve your results.
Coming from that place of self-acceptance paves the way for you to be curious and to use missteps or mistakes as opportunities to learn, grow, and eventually improve. If things aren’t going the way that you want, having the ability to ask why without negative judgment is one of the most powerful things you can do to get the information that can put you on a different track.
Asking curious self-compassionate questions like these can help you strategize a lasting solution to specific overeating challenges:
“Why am I eating so much after work?”
“What was going on before I walked into the meeting and inhaled those cookies?”
“What could I do differently so that I’m not mindlessly eating while I sift through emails?”
Self-compassion helps end emotional eating and overeating battles in at least one more very important way. Self-compassion can help reduce self-imposed isolation.
Overeating struggles are often a vicious cycle – a hamster wheel of behaviors that just seem to go round and round and get worse with each revolution.
The cycle isn’t always exactly the same, but it might look something like this: stress, stress eating, exhaustion, guilt and shame, using food to feel better, feeling worse, being too busy to figure out a different solution, feeling stuck, and eating chocolate because it is there.
The hamster wheel takes you nowhere, and one of the most powerful mechanisms that keeps women on it is an unexamined belief that there is something wrong with you for struggling.
A feeling that no one else struggles like this.
A frustrated conviction that you shouldn’t have to ask for help – you should be able to figure this out on your own.
Shame and isolation are major reasons that stressed out, busy women overeat and stay trapped on the hamster wheel.
Self-compassion reminds us that we’re human and that struggles are normal. Self-compassion helps us see that we aren’t our weight or our clothing size. And self-compassion can open the door to a new way of doing things – a way that is NOT the hamster wheel.
Ending cycles we keep perpetuating without even realizing it can be a challenge. Letting in help and a fresh perspective can make all the difference.
The first step is self-compassion.
Take good care,