With Halloween behind us and Thanksgiving on its way, it is important for some of us experiencing food struggles to acknowledge that these can be challenging holidays that we approach with some level of dread. So many people experience feelings of guilt and regret after overeating Halloween candy and Thanksgiving meals, that getting down on ourselves has now become part of these holidays.
It seems to be ingrained in our culture that self-criticism will motivate us to rein in our eating. However, this approach often backfires, as shame and self-criticism often lead to emotional overeating and even bingeing. Calling yourself fat, lazy, disgusting – and any other derogatory name – will not inspire or motivate you to change. It will drive you into a vicious cycle of yo-yo dieting, emotional overeating or bingeing, and feelings of failure or shame.
So, what is the answer?
Treat yourself with compassion! The most important tool during the tricky times of holiday eating is self-compassion.
Kristin Neff, a leading self-compassion expert and researcher at the University of Texas, defines self-compassion as extending compassion to ourselves especially when we are having a difficult time, suffering, feeling inadequate, or notice something we don’t like about ourselves – rather than ignoring our pain or beating ourselves with self-criticism.
3 Components of Self-Compassion
- Self-kindness as opposed to self-judgment. Being warm, gentle and understanding with ourselves when we are confronted with painful experiences, just like we would with a beloved friend.
- Common humanity as opposed to isolation. Recognizing that suffering, emotional pain, and perceiving personal failure are simply parts of being human and we share this experience with all human beings.
- Mindfulness as opposed to over-identification. The ability to observe negative thoughts and emotions and validate our experiences in a non-judgmental way. To feel compassion for our pain, we must acknowledge it first. At the same time, we don’t want to over-identify with our thoughts and feelings and allow ourselves to be swept away by negativity. This component requires taking a balanced approach to our negative thoughts and emotions so that feelings are neither suppressed/denied nor exaggerated.
Learn more about our insurance-eligible Pathway™ program for binge and emotional eating, backed by over 45 years of compassion and experience.
So how do you put self-compassion into action?
One of the most important facts to know is that self-compassion can be learned. It is a practice that can help us become less self-critical and encourage us to relate to ourselves with kindness and acceptance. There are many ways in which we can cultivate self-compassion after holiday binge eating.
These strategies can help:
- Become aware of the language you use to address yourself. Sometimes our critical self-talk is automatic and we are not even aware of the type of language and tone we use with ourselves. It is crucial to pay attention to the words you use to speak to yourself and make sure you change that dialogue to a gentle, kind and warm message, as you would with a beloved friend.
- Consider how you typically treat a beloved friend. Most of us know and want to be kind and understanding to those important people in our lives. We can be compassionate to others, yet sometimes it is hard to do the same for ourselves.Use language that feels genuine and believable. Try something like: “Everyone eats candy on Halloween… it is ok for me to enjoy this holiday and partake in the festivities too.”
- Cultivate self-compassion with writing. Keep a daily journal in which you process the difficult events of your day and practice a compassionate internal dialogue to enhance both mental and physical well-being. This exercise will help make self-compassion – self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness – part of your daily life.
- Use self-compassion as a motivation technique. Remember that if you really want to motivate yourself, criticism only induces fear, shame and avoidance. We are conditioned by society to think that this abusive type of tactic is what gets results. Therefore, that’s how we tend to talk to ourselves when we’re pursuing a goal, trying to improve, or making a change. That’s where changing our self talk comes in again. When our inner conversation is compassionate, we can acknowledge areas of personal weakness and mistakes we have made by recognizing that imperfection is part of the shared human experience. We can then work on improving ourselves and making positive changes from a safe and encouraging inner environment.
- Develop a self-compassion mantra. Whenever you find yourself experiencing a difficult moment that leads to self-criticism, it helps to have a few phrases ready to help you tap into self-compassion when you most need it. Pick statements that really resonate with you. Here is the self-compassion mantra Kristen Neff developed for herself: “This is a moment of suffering. Suffering is part of life. May I be kind to myself in this moment; may I give myself the compassion that I need.”