I caught a glimpse of something in the NYTimes that I think is pretty relevant, here:
Do you treat yourself as well as you treat your friends and family?
That simple question is the basis for a burgeoning new area of psychological research called self-compassion — how kindly people view themselves. People who find it easy to be supportive and understanding to others, it turns out, often score surprisingly low on self-compassion tests, berating themselves for perceived failures like being overweight or not exercising.
The research suggests that giving ourselves a break and accepting our imperfections may be the first step toward better health. People who score high on tests of self-compassion have less depression and anxiety, and tend to be happier and more optimistic. Preliminary data suggest that self-compassion can even influence how much we eat and may help some people lose weight.
This idea does seem at odds with the advice dispensed by many doctors and self-help books, which suggest that willpower and self-discipline are the keys to better health. But Kristin Neff, a pioneer in the field, says self-compassion is not to be confused with self-indulgence or lower standards.
“I found in my research that the biggest reason people aren’t more self-compassionate is that they are afraid they’ll become self-indulgent,” said Dr. Neff, an associate professor of human development at the University of Texas at Austin. “They believe self-criticism is what keeps them in line. Most people have gotten it wrong because our culture says being hard on yourself is the way to be.”
Imagine your reaction to a child struggling in school or eating too much junk food. Many parents would offer support, like tutoring or making an effort to find healthful foods the child will enjoy. But when adults find themselves in a similar situation — struggling at work, or overeating and gaining weight — many fall into a cycle of self-criticism and negativity. That leaves them feeling even less motivated to change.
“Self-compassion is really conducive to motivation,” Dr. Neff said. “The reason you don’t let your children eat five big tubs of ice cream is because you care about them. With self-compassion, if you care about yourself, you do what’s healthy for you rather than what’s harmful to you.”
I cannot express enough how important this concept of self-compassion truly is. It’s why I say “I don’t diet.” It’s why my plan for developing a strong sense of body image includes thinking of how I’d treat my four year old daughter if I caught her saying the same things about her body that I used to say about mine. It’s why I don’t believe in “cheat meals.”
When it comes to weight loss, self-compassion – instead of negative talk and chastising oneself for lacking “will power” – is the key because self-compassion allows for us to make mistakes and, thereafter, learn lessons from those mistakes. Even in the days when I was eating 7-layer dip for breakfast, I knew I was wrong but I allowed myself to make the mistake and accept what consequences would come from it… and I never ate it again. Not “I never ate it for breakfast again,” but “I never ate it again. Period.”
Self-discipline might be the way to weight loss, but the missing factor in everyone’s understanding of self-discipline is that people who have never had self-discipline have to learn it somehow. It’s not simply “the frontal part of the brain region that fat people have never tapped into.” It is a learned trait… and that learning has to start somewhere that doesn’t include “going cold turkey.”
The article goes on from here:
A 2007 study by researchers at Wake Forest University suggested that even a minor self-compassion intervention could influence eating habits. As part of the study, 84 female college students were asked to take part in what they thought was a food-tasting experiment. At the beginning of the study, the women were asked to eat doughnuts.One group, however, was given a lesson in self-compassion with the food. “I hope you won’t be hard on yourself,” the instructor said. “Everyone in the study eats this stuff, so I don’t think there’s any reason to feel real bad about it.”
Later the women were asked to taste-test candies from large bowls. The researchers found that women who were regular dieters or had guilt feelings about forbidden foods ate less after hearing the instructor’s reassurance. Those not given that message ate more.
The hypothesis is that the women who felt bad about the doughnuts ended up engaging in “emotional” eating. The women who gave themselves permission to enjoy the sweets didn’t overeat. [source]
This is why I don’t believe in “cheating.” If I’m changing my lifestyle, what “good” does it do to create a lifestyle for myself where I have to “cheat” myself (because that’s the only person being cheated, here) in order to be successful? That’s a fail. Period.
I will admit, though, that I think there’s something missing from this entire conversation: people feel an inability to exercise restraint with food because, more often than not, they’re dealing with processed foods that alter their ability to “eat just one.” The fact that I couldn’t control myself when it came to certain foods was something that’d cause me to beat myself up a little bit, too. I can admit that.
See? That’s an example of self-compassion. My admitting that I wouldn’t have been able to control myself or lose my weight if I were still around processed foods? That’s me being compassionate to myself, being sympathetic to my shortcomings… instead of acting like my shortcomings don’t have to be acknowledged because some mystical mental power should exist to save me (and then calling myself an idiot, a loser and a failure for not being able to tap into it.)
I really want to read up on this and come back to it, but I’m especially interested in what everyone has to say about this study. How compassionate are you to yourself? Do you beat yourself up over food woes or missing your workout? Let’s talk!