The Practice of Self-Compassion and Eating
by Darith James
Self-compassion is an inherent trait that belongs to us all. In its essence, the practice of self-compassion is understood as treating ourselves the way we would a good friend in a time of need or suffering. Self-compassion is grounded in the three tenants of self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. Self-kindness is being kind and loving towards ourselves, not harsh or critical. Common humanity is understanding that we all have places of challenge and flaws; being imperfect is part of the human experience. Mindfulness is non-judgmental present moment awareness. Woven together, these components are the foundation of self-compassion.
Sometimes the experience of eating, or perhaps our relationship with food, can feel challenged. Perhaps we don’t feel great about the food choices we’ve made or how our body image/perception- maybe we’ve eaten due to tough emotions, not true hunger. Many of us learn to use food as a way to cope with difficulties in life, which can leave us feeling out of balance- and perhaps even shameful or remorseful; this place is known to many. When faced with this uncomfortable situation, instead of being critical and beating ourselves up, we can embrace the gift of self-compassion and turn towards our suffering in a loving and attentive way, rather than turning against ourselves.
Think of how you would treat a good friend who is struggling with food or eating- perhaps they have been using food to cope with stress or they feel confused by messages about what they should/shouldn’t eat- or simply feel out of balance with their eating motivation and behaviors. Think of the words you would say to your friend, the support you would offer, the warmth you would naturally feel towards your friend who was suffering in the moment. Imagine that you would gift your friend sincere kindness, a sense of common humanity through connection, and a loving reminder to stay in the moment (non-judgmentally).
Remember that the practice of self-compassion is simply to treat ourselves the way we would treat a good friend. Close your eyes for a moment and take a few deep breaths. Allow yourself to arrive right where you are, bringing your attention to the here and now. Begin to slow down your breathing, perhaps inhaling and exhaling a bit longer than usual. Now call to mind a time when you struggled with food or eating- allow yourself to recall and feel this, but not get lost or caught up in it. Recall the compassion you readily felt for you friend and begin to imagine that you bring the same kindness, connection, and mindfulness to yourself. Allow yourself to feel the same warmth, caring response, and supportive words that you gifted to your friend. Breathe into this for a few minutes- allowing a felt sense of being nurtured from within. Self-compassion is always available to us as a practice we can return to again and again. As you are ready, bring your attention back to your breath and slowly open your eyes.
Self-compassion is always available to us as a practice we can return to again and again.
Dara James is a Doctoral Candidate and Research Assistant in the College of Nursing and Health Innovation at Arizona State University. Her research focuses on evidence-based interventions and program development specific to mindful eating and self-compassion in various populations. Dara is a certified instructor in Mindful Eating, Conscious Living through the University of California San Diego and Koru Mindfulness through Duke University. Dara’s current work explores the psychology of stress, mindfulness and self-regulation in the context of eating behaviors as related to potential disease outcomes. Additionally, Dara serves as a Consultant at ASU’s Center for Mindfulness, Compassion and Resilience designing and writing curricula for mindful eating and self-compassion courses. Dara is passionate about the work she does and finds joy in sharing it with others