Wellness Wednesday: A Exercise in Self Compassion for Weight Loss

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Beating yourself up when you eat something 'bad' just leads to negativity. Next time you feel guilty about eating, try this exercise in self compassion for weight loss. 

"And now that you don't have to be perfect, you can be good."

It’s always fascinating to me what I’m struggling with personally often parallel what my clients are going through. Perhaps it’s a case of synchronicity or maybe I’m picking up on topics weighing heavily on my mind. Either way, I often find myself immersed in a ‘theme’ from my personal to professional life.

Lately, that theme has been self compassion. If I’m not mindful about it, I can get pretty hard on myself, especially when it comes to professional success. After three months of website issues that have sucked up my free time and a slow client load with recent travel, I’ve definitely had days where the feeling of failure has been pretty overwhelming.

Seeing people beat themselves up over what they did or didn’t eat isn’t anything new, but recently it seems my clients have been struggling with it more than normal. A lot of it has to do with our recent flooding here in Columbia. The three week boil water advisory got many off their cooking game, and the nonstop dreary weather certainly hasn’t been helpful. I totally get it. I feel like curling up on the couch with a bowl of macaroni and cheese too (and probably would if I could motivate myself to go out in the rain to pick up some cheese).

Do you operate under the belief that willpower and self discipline are the key to weight loss success? If so, your self talk around food might sound a bit like an overzealous high school football coach. “What were you thinking eating those cookies Steve!?! How could you be so stupid?? If you keep messing up, we’ll never get to 130 pounds…I mean the State Championship!”

Many people are afraid that showing self compassion is the same as giving themselves unbridled permission to do it again. That forcing themselves in line with negative self talk is the only way to keep their compulsions in check

That’s not the case. Beating yourself up will just lead to a black hole of negativity and chip away at your self esteem. There’s even research that shows self compassion works. In one study, women were asked to participate in a ‘food tasting study’ that examined donuts, candy and other sweet treats. The women who were given a talk on self compassion and reminded that everyone eats food like this ate significantly less that those who didn’t receive the talk.

Trying to be a little nicer to yourself? Try this self compassion exercise I use with my clients next time you’re feeling guilty about something you ate. Take a close look at the eating event, and ask yourself the following questions to take a more compassionate look at the situation.

  1. PROGRESS, NOT PERFECTION. Remind yourself that reaching goals requires progress, not perfection. No matter how awful you felt your slip was, there’s likely some glimmer of progress. Even noticing what’s happened or making the attempt to eat or think differently is a success. So you ate a bowl of ice cream. Maybe you used to eat it out of the container. At least this time it was portioned in a bowl. Maybe you overate French fries. Feel proud of the fact that you noticed you were eating mindlessly and made attempts to pay attention. Even if you can’t find the silver lining in that specific eating event, chances are there were other times during the day where you did make progress on other eating habits. Remember, it’s the cumulative effects of these small changes that make a difference, not one singular event.
  2. WATCH THE INTERNAL TALK. What are you telling yourself about the eating event? What words are you using? Try to catch all the negative words and stories in your head. Phrases like “I cheated” or telling yourself “I’ll always be fat so I might as well eat the rest of the cake” can only have a negative effects. Imagine a child or a friend was in your shoes. Would you repeat the things you say to yourself to them? No, because it would have a negative impact on their behavior and self esteem. So why do we talk to ourselves this way? Change your story to something more hopeful and constructive, even something as simple as “Hey, I slipped, but at least I’m trying.”
  3. ASK WHAT HAPPENED. Instead of beating yourself up in hopes of shaming yourself into submission, examine what events led up to your slip. Was it an emotional state that led you to self sabotage or make an impulsive decision? Or was it something physical, like hunger. Maybe there was a cue you missed, like forgetting to leave your apple snack on the counter. Try to find the root cause.
  4. MAKE A PLAN. More than likely, you’ll find yourself in a similar situation again. Plan for it. What could you do differently the next time? What could have prevented the slip. Or, maybe you really loved what you ate. What could you do to be able to enjoy it or other worth it splurges in the future without feeling guilty. Think of a plan and set concrete goals that will help prevent future slips.

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Now, I encourage you to try this method yourself. Think back to the last time you felt regret about what or how much you ate. Try to remember everything about that event and go through these four steps. Did you learn or realize anything? If so, please share in the comments below!

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