If your eating habits are fueled by negative self-talk, it’s time to check in on how it’s actually working out for you. Here’s why self-compassion is a better way to go.
Self-compassion is foundational when it comes to nutrition. It might sound strange coming from a registered dietitian, but it’s absolutely critical. Otherwise, you run the risk of your nutrition changes playing out like every other diet has in the past: leaving you feeling guilty, defeated, and frustrated.
Whether it’s subconscious or not, many people find themselves operating on this basic premise with food:
If I’m just mean enough to myself, maybe I’ll finally get the whole ‘healthy eating’ thing right this time.
That couldn’t be further from the truth —
Criticizing, berating, or bullying won’t improve anything.
What it will lead to is more pendulum swinging between deprivation and bingeing, so the answer to food chaos isn’t more restriction and rules — it’s more self-compassion.
The good news is that self-compassion is a skill you can develop. It’s not something you’re born with (or not)—you can actively get better at it through practice. And when you start to approach food and your self-care from a place of compassion, you settle into a more healthy, realistic, and sustainable approach to food.
But first, what is self-compassion?
In essence, self-compassion is simply learning to treat and care for yourself like you would someone you truly love. How would you talk to your best friend? How would you feed your child? Self-compassion asks those questions and turns them on yourself.
Why is there a gap in how you treat and care for others versus how you treat and care for yourself? Can you learn to close that gap through practice?
Practice is a keyword when discussing self-compassion. We’re so indoctrinated from diet culture to believe that we should see instant results. To heal your relationship with food, you will need to make peace with the idea that there is no such thing as “easy”. Nurturing a healthy relationship with food will take time and effort, but it’s so worth it.
Here are a few things you can do to start practicing self-compassion:
1. Institute a daily writing practice.
Take 5-10 minutes each day to write. Don’t worry about who your audience is or who will read it, just write. Write about what’s on your mind or what self-compassion means to you. Writing can help get the thoughts out of your head and onto paper, which can be a powerful tool in navigating paradigm shifts like working toward self-compassion.
2. Sit down to actual meals.
So many people eat on the go, never really taking time to connect to their needs and satisfy their body’s hunger. Taking time to eat ‘real meals’ where you sit down and eat 3-4 different foods from your plate can make a huge difference in your relationship with food. By practicing self-compassion with regular, reliable meals, it will feel nurturing and positive to take time to meet your needs.
This can be a guided meditation with an app such as Calm or Headspace, or it could be simply sitting still and coming back to your breath. When your mind wanders, practice having compassion for that and let it wander where it will. Notice your judgment as it comes up and use the time you’re meditating to practice coming back to compassion.
And don’t feel badly if you aren’t skilled with self-compassion—it’s okay to need a little outside help to learn something you may have never heard of or practiced before. Consider looking for books or online resources that help you further develop these skills,
Ultimately, self-compassion is a practice and a continual effort to nurture a positive, sustainable and healthy approach to food and your own self-care.
Give yourself grace, and remember —
You deserve all the compassion in the world.
Adapted from the original post.
Paige Smathers, RDN, CD is a nutrition therapist based in Salt Lake City who helps individuals find positive ways to overcome struggles they experience with food and body image. She specializes in practical, down-to-earth solutions for those in eating disorder recovery and chronic dieting through a weight-neutral positive approach. Paige hosts the popular Nutrition Matters Podcast and runs her private practice, Positive Nutrition.