Many of us eat for emotional reasons — when we’re sad, angry, happy, stressed, or lonely — we find ourselves eating so that we feel better. And eating works!
Unfortunately, we usually feel worse afterwards — both emotionally and physically. More often than not this triggers a cycle of beating yourself up — quite literally adding insult to injury — as the guilt and shame become yet another trigger for emotional eating, feeding the eat-repent-repeat cycle.
Now, what would happen it we agreed the first step to breaking this cycle is self-compassion instead of self-criticism? How might that help? And more importantly, where would we start?
How does self-compassion help with emotional eating?
As difficult as it may seem to get our heads around, being understanding and forgiving of yourself for overeating will help you take the next step to finding other ways to meet your emotional needs.
After all, we don’t eat for emotional reasons because we’re ‘weak-willed’… ‘stupid’… or ‘out of control’… We do it because it works!
Blaming, shaming, criticizing, and finding fault for attempting to care for yourself only backfires. Imagine you were teaching a young child something new… would blaming, shaming, criticizing, and finding fault help or hurt? The way you speak to yourself has just as much power! You may be feeling afraid that if you are ‘nice’ to yourself, you won’t change. However, the exact opposite is true! You care for yourself because you accept yourself, not so you’ll accept yourself.
So, how can you begin to respond with self-compassion when you overeat?
Three Ways to Nurture Self-Compassion
Gently acknowledge that you were doing the best you could in that moment.
Validate your thoughts, feelings, and actions as being normal and understandable given the circumstances. “Of course!” It’s like saying, “I totally get why you thought, felt, or did that!”
Of course you ate! Who wouldn’t want to feel better when they’re sad, angry, stressed, or lonely — or magnify the pleasure when they’re glad? This validation and unconditional acceptance creates a safe environment for experimenting with new thoughts, feelings, and actions.
When you overeat, validate the choice as being rational at the time: “Of course you __________________!” This gentle, understanding self-talk will open the door to exploring how you might do it differently next time if you don’t like how it turned out.
Bring Non-judgmental Awareness to the Situation.
Mindful eating is all about bringing nonjudgmental awareness to your choices and experiences with eating. Non-judgment is essential because it provides a more objective understanding of what happened and why.
One tactic you can try is writing about an overeating or binge eating episode and identifying the ‘voices’ that show up. Non-judgmentally recognising how your Restrictive Eating, Overeating, and Binge Eating voices drive the cycle will give you a great opportunity to cultivate your own Self-Care Voice.
Cultivate Your Self-Care Voice
Your Self-Care Voice wants the best for you. It is unconditionally compassionate, affirming and accepting. Your Self-Care voice is the voice of kindness and wisdom. It is like a loving parent who guides you to learn from your mistakes, face your challenges, and loves you unconditionally, faults and all.