What is self-compassion if it isn’t dessert? | TMOHP Episode 079

Cultivating self-compassion is key to creating freedom from overeating or ending emotional eating. Self-compassion is the way past guilt and self-blame. Self-compassion leads us to be curious about Hidden Hungers and helps us create lasting solutions. In theory, self-compassion sounds great. But when it comes to adopting self-compassion, many smart, busy women feel confused.

What am I supposed to do?

How will I know if I’m just being “too easy” on myself and letting myself “off the hook”?

What do I do when all those “self-compassion” suggestions require more time and energy than I have?

In this episode, I’m unpacking self-compassion - what it is, what it isn’t, and why you need it to make peace with food and create freedom from overeating.

In this episode:

  • Why self-compassion is never a list of things
  • A bunch of other things that self-compassion is NOT
  • The three steps or parts of self-compassion
  • How to start cultivating a self-compassion mindset

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Full episode transcript:

Hello everybody. Today I want to talk with you about self-compassion. And if self-compassion isn't a cupcake, what exactly is it? What does it look like? How do you use it? Why do you need it? Why do I use that phrase so much?

I've been doing a number of podcast interviews lately and have been answering the question, what's the first thing to address? What's the first step if you want to address emotional eating triggers? And you probably know my answer. It's that addressing emotional eating begins with understanding that there is a reason that emotional eating is happening. We need to start looking at the reason that food has the power. Right? The reason that you want to emotionally eat.

And we have to approach habits, even the ones that we don't like with food and with anything else, actually, we need to approach these habits with self-compassion. And I've been thinking about how often the term self-compassion comes up. It's important, it's a key to creating a peaceful relationship with food that works for us. We can only create a new balance or a new path forward with food, one that feels right. When we start from a place of compassion for ourselves and a place of compassion for our feelings and our needs.

But what does this really mean? What does self-compassion really mean? I mean, it's a fancy term that sounds good. And when I say it and when I think it, we get, you know, it gets a lot of head nods from, from me or from anybody else. It sounds good self-compassion. But in the thick of things, practically, applying self-compassion, it isn't always intuitive.

Self-compassion, the idea of self-compassion, struggles with self-compassion comes up over and over and over again inside Your Missing Peace. Your Missing Peace is the program where I help women create freedom from overeating. It's my signature program. And we talk about self-compassion all the time because it is so key. It is a missing piece of the puzzle. Right?

Some of the questions that we play with probably resonate for you. One of them is, can you offer a few examples of what self, self-compassion looks like? Or, I know that you know, there are things like bubble baths or going for a walk, but that's not always possible. What else is an example of self-compassion?

Here is a good question that came up recently. What's the difference between self-compassion and rationalization? Human brains worry about this one a lot. Right? If I practice self-compassion too much, I might, I might actually be rationalizing. As in what If I'm so gentle and quote unquote nice to myself that I just don't move forward? What if I'm too easy on myself? Oh, brains love to worry about that.

It is, it is easy to get sidetracked from what self-compassion really is. Or to confuse ourselves about it, or to get all tangled up in in mind games about what is self-compassion? What does it look like? So let's break it down. What is self-compassion and why do you need it? Why do any of us need it to make peace with it?

Self-compassion is so frequently misunderstood and misinterpreted, especially by busy women who are juggling stress or overload. So before we talk about what self-compassion is, let's start with getting really clear about what self-compassion is not.

Self-compassion is not a binge. It is not an overindulgence that leaves you feeling guilty or frustrated with yourself. It is not anything that leaves you feeling guilty or frustrated with yourself. Self-compassion is not numbing out. It is not mindlessly wasting time unless this is something that you are really deliberately doing because you've really decided, this is what self-compassion looks like for you right now. More about that later.

Self-compassion is not procrastinating or rationalizing or endlessly avoiding or skipping something that is actually important to you. Self-compassion is not putting a bandage or a big bowl of ice cream over what's really bothering you instead of addressing it in a way that will allow you or allow it to evolve or heal or move forward.

Why am I starting with what self-compassion is not? Because when we are tired, when we're too tired, when we're too busy, when we're too stressed, we confuse the short-term fix. The short-term fixes that will quickly boost or transform or numb our feelings. We confuse these quick fixes with actual self-compassion.

When we're too tired, too busy, or too stressed, we focus on the short-term relief that we might feel. Maybe, and that's a big maybe. And we ignore the bigger eventual boomerang effect. Right? So it might be feeling frustrated or bloated or mad that we missed an opportunity or upset that we lost an hour getting sucked into an internet rabbit hole when really we have 50 million things to do.

It is so easy when you're short on time or energy to focus on a short-term benefit and ignore the bigger picture. It is really important to get clear on what self-compassion doesn't look like for you. And part of that is, okay, what is this thing that I'm thinking might be self-compassion? What is that going to feel like in the, in the bigger scheme of things, an hour from now, five hours from now tomorrow morning? That's point number one.

Here's the next thing about self-compassion. I cannot tell you how many times I have been asked, can you give me a list of activities that are self-compassion? And the answer is no, I cannot. Because self-compassion isn't a list of activities. Self-compassion isn't a cupcake, but it also isn't a bubble bath. Self-compassion is a mindset. It's an attitude. It's a point of view. We can only figure out how to show ourselves self-compassion, as in, okay, what do I do to have self-compassion? We can only figure out the how, when we come from a place of feeling self-compassion. So, having said that, how do you practice self-compassion? How do you do it?

Self-compassion springs from the attitude, your attitude, rather than some cookie cutter list of actions. Lots of actions, think about going for a walk, for example. Lots of actions can feel very different. They do feel very different depending on your attitude. So you can make a decision to go for a walk, and that can feel incredibly peaceful. It could feel rejuvenating. It could feel like a lovely act of kindness to yourself. Or, it could feel like a should. It could feel like punishing yourself. Or, it could feel like nurturing yourself depending on how you are thinking and feeling, and the mindset from which you made that choice.

If you want to know about self-compassion, then Kristen Neff is the absolute go-to expert and researcher on this topic. And I will link to her book on self-compassion in the show notes. She takes self-compassion and she breaks the experience down into three parts. And I think this might be helpful.

The first part that she breaks the experience of self-compassion down into is noticing your suffering or your pain or your discomfort. Noticing your need for self-compassion is so important. And this is actually a new step for a lot of women who struggle with emotional eating or overeating, at least in this area. And that's why I emphasize how important it is to respect that overeating always happens for a reason. Knowing this, knowing that overeating always happens for a reason can help us step into curiosity and self-compassion about what's going on and step out of the name calling and the self-blame and the feeling like we did something stupid.

So what this step looks like. Remember noticing your pain or your suffering or your discomfort. What this step looks like, it can be as simple as noticing and saying to yourself kindly, something like, I'm having a really hard day. Or this is really hard, or I'm feeling a little bit anxious right now. Or, you know what? I am in this transition point in my day and, I'm feeling unsure of what to do next or how to dive into the next part. It can be that simple. Okay, so step one, you notice your suffering or pain or discomfort.

The second step that Kristen Neff outlines is responding with your heart. Responding to that noticing with warmth with a desire to comfort or a desire to help in some way. So you're offering yourself understanding and kindness rather than judging yourself harshly. You really can't do both. Here is something I see all the time. I see really smart, capable, but busy women try to skip or deprive themselves of that heartfelt kind response. Right? You notice that something is hard, but you skip that kind, warm, comforting response.

If you try to do self-compassion without really coming from that heartfelt place? It is going to feel and be fake and forced. And it isn't effective. It isn't really self-compassion. So how do you respond from your heart? What does that look like? Often the easiest path is to think about how you'd feel if you were helping somebody else that you love or care about.

If you struggle with self-compassion, you might find that you have all the skills and strengths. They just tend to be focused on others most of the time and not on yourself. And there are a lot of reasons for that, and we won't go into that here. But you know, start practicing this second step of self-compassion by asking yourself, how would I respond to a friend in this situation? How would I take care of this person?

Okay, so you notice. You respond from your heart. And the third step that Kristen Neff teaches is respecting that suffering, pain or imperfection is a part of your humanness. It's normal. It's not a defect or a personal inadequacy. I know you have heard me say if you have listened to this podcast for more than one episode, you've heard me say that perfectionism is a major cause of overeating.

When we acknowledge that we are as human as everyone else, and oh, yes, there's nothing wrong with being human and that having bad days or difficult days or making mistakes is wonderfully human. We can be kinder to ourselves. Not only that, but when we approach imperfection from a place of self-compassion? Respecting that suffering and pain and imperfection is just a part of being human. Then it is so much more possible to learn and grow when you make mistakes. When you have missteps or when you have bad, painful, imperfect days.

So notice, respond from the heart and know that imperfection is absolutely a part of the human experience and worthy of self-compassion and care.

Okay, so what does self-compassion have to do with peace with food and freedom from overeating? Why? Why are we talking about this? Why does it come up all the time? Because an attitude of self-compassion allows us to learn from our emotional eating and overeating. We can be curious instead of furious and mad at ourselves. And we can ask ourselves what we really need and crave that isn't food.

When we harness the attitude of self-compassion, we can be curious instead of self-blaming. We can start to look for what are the reasons that I'm overeating? What are the reasons that I did that eating this afternoon, and I didn't do it yesterday? What are the reasons that this has been a really hard week for me? And then we can ask ourselves what we really need and what we really crave that isn't food.

When we harness the attitude of self-compassion, we can also ask the next question. Which is, what does self-compassion look like for me right now? What does it look like and feel like for me right now? Because that is how we start to identify what self-compassion really is. It is only when we come from that place of feeling warmth and kindness and respect for ourselves that we can begin to come up with to generate, to creatively think about ideas of the things that might feel good. The things, the activities that might be self-compassion. The things that might be nourishing or comforting in that moment.

And they're going to change, they’re going to be different. But coming from that place of caring, and kindness and warmth and lovingness. That is how we decide. That is how you start to come up with a list of what does self-compassion look like. And it's going to be different from moment to moment. In one moment, that could be a nap in another, it could be a kick in the pants to get yourself out the door to breathe some fresh air and get some exercise.

So instead of trying to come up with 10 things that are self-compassion, my advice is to practice generating an attitude, a mindset of self-compassion. Practice experimenting with the things that help you to access self-compassion for yourself. What are the, what are the practices? Is it taking a breath? Is it feeling your heartbeat? Is it thinking about someone you love and asking if you would treat them the way that you are talking to yourself right now?

Focus on generating a mindset of self-compassion. And if that feels impossible, focus on generating a mindset that is, oh, I don't know, one inch more self-compassionate than the mindset you have right now. And then start asking the question- in this moment, what does self-compassion look like for me?

Give yourself permission for the answer to that question to evolve over time. Give yourself permission to get better at answering that question. The attitude the mindset of self-compassion starts with beginning to nurture the belief that you are worthy of self-compassion. That self-compassion is important.

So start practicing the question. Close your eyes right now. Take a few minutes, close your eyes and ask yourself in this moment, what do I know about what self-compassion looks like for me?

Keep experimenting and I'll talk to you soon.


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Your Missing Peace is the psychologist-designed program that provides the tools, the support, the coaching, and the confidence to create freedom from emotional eating and overeating. Finally - emotional eating help done right! Your Missing Peace is specifically designed for smart, high-achieving women who are DONE with diets, who want a lasting solution, and who are ready to take their power back from food, from overeating, and the scale. 

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