I recently attended my niece's sixth birthday party. In a moment of excitement, two little girls bumped into each other and juice boxes went flying everywhere. One little girl, calmly got a paper towel, cleaned it up and said to herself, "Oh, that's okay, just an accident." The juice stain on her dress clearly bothered her. But, she happily went back to playing. The other girl began to cry immediately. She kept looking at the stain on her dress and talking about the incident. She couldn't let it go. For her, the rest of the party was ruined.
This incident is similar to what happens in your mind when you have an eating "oops." Let's say for example, that you overeat at a special dinner even though you promised yourself that you wouldn't. Or, you feel guilty because you knew you were engaging in stress eating but did it anyway. You can either calmly and compassionately talk yourself through the incident. Or, your inner critic can go to town ruminating, feeling guilty and criticizing yourself for the misstep. Like the little girl who couldn't let it go, harsh self-statements can keep you stuck and prevent you from getting back on track.
Compassion is key to helping you manage your weight. It seems counter intuitive if you've been indoctrinated with a diet mentality that suggests that you are a "failure" if you don't have perfect control over your body and cravings. It would be nice if an eating "oops" didn't throw you into such a tailspin. Guilt and bad feelings often lead to comfort eating and self-sabotage.
Compassion sometimes doesn't come naturally. Our minds are trained to hone in on mistakes and errors. It can be like a mental scavenger hunt actively looking for what you do "right" instead of what you do "wrong." So, how do you be more compassion? Here are four tips.
1) Dr. Susan Albers, clinical psychologist and author of 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food, recommends practice. Sometimes talking to yourself in a positive way can be like learning a new language. You translate your critical thoughts into compassionate words. Here is a helpful quote to bring to mind. "Before you speak, ask yourself, is it kind, is it necessary, is it true, does it improve on the silence?" - Sai Baba. Or, consider choosing a compassionate quote to be your mantra. Say it silently to yourself many times a day. (ex. You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection. -Buddha)
2) Jean Fain, LICSW, MSW, author of the new book, The Self-Compassion Diet, advises writing a "Compassionate Note to Self." She states, "Getting deep concerns down on paper is not only a great way to ease emotional distress, it's a proven method for bolstering a positive outlook. This practice calls for 15 to 20 minutes of uninterrupted writing per day in which you unload personal angst about a current predicament, and follow it with comforting words from an imagined pen pal." Speaking kindly to yourself is so important that "compassion" is the focal point of Dr. Jean Fain book, The Self-Compassionate Diet. Her new book has many other ideas such as visualizations, affirmations (mettas) and self-hypnosis.
3) Leslie Goldman author of the Locker Room Diaries states that, "one way to show yourself some compassion would be to stop weighing yourself. Too many of us become consumed by the number, allowing it to dictate our day, week...life! I see women in my locker room go from scale to scale (we have a giant Toledo carnival scale, as well as the traditional doctor's office kind), angling for a better number. Then, if the number's a disappointment, you can see them visibly slump, scowl, and walk away, their head hung. I used to be like them, but I haven't weighed myself in over a year, and it is so incredibly freeing."
4) The book, Operation Beautiful, is a clear example of how being compassionate towards others can help you feel better about yourself. Her book recommends leaving an empowering, kind note in a public place like a bathroom door. This exercise is great practice in learning to speak compassionately to yourself and others.
So, if you overeat and are tempted to berate yourself, think again. Remember that being critical of yourself does NOT inspire you to change. Think of how empowering a kind word from a parent or spouse is and how damaging a critical statement can be. A harsh word can play in your mind on repeat for years.
An easy way to start being more compassionate is to give a stranger a genuine compliment. Kindness is like a boomerang. It returns to you.
Good Advice: If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion. ~Dalai Lama
Dr. Susan Albers is a clinical psychologist and author of 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food and four other books on mindful eating. http://www.eatingmindfully.com. Her work has been featured on the Dr. Oz T.V. Show, O, the Oprah Magazine, Shape, Health, Prevention and the Wall Street Journal.