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Eating Disorders

Self-Compassion in Eating Disorder Recovery

Learn how to foster a love for yourself.

Dean Drobot/BigStock
Source: Dean Drobot/BigStock

How can you foster a love for yourself that encourages and strengthens who you are while recovering from an eating disorder? The answer is self-compassion.

It is time for you to accept yourself and celebrate who you are. Your eating disorder does not define you, nor does it dictate who you will become. Cultivating self-compassion will help you to understand your experience and find peace within yourself. Dr. Kristin Neff, a widely proclaimed researcher on self-compassion and author of Self-compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, has defined self-compassion as recognizing that you are suffering in a moment or situation, and being kind and understanding towards yourself.

Be kind to yourself. Sounds simple enough, right? Think about your daily routine. As you move through your day, when do ever stop to take time to offer yourself kindness and words of encouragement? How often do you tell yourself that it is acceptable to feel pain in a difficult situation? When and how do you give yourself an opportunity for growth?

For people recovering from an eating disorder, it is essential to practice techniques that cultivate self-compassion in their everyday lives. Binge-eating, purging, and not eating enough can have profound mental and physical effects on the individual. Learning how to be kind to oneself and encouraging a sense of self-worth is the first step in helping people diminish their ‘critical voice’.

The ‘Critical Voice’

When people struggle with an eating disorder, their eating disorder becomes their ‘critical voice’. This voice taunts people in their daily lives and creates negative thoughts and feelings about how they look, behave, and feel. The person’s self-image is constantly questioned and feelings of doubt cloud the mind.

This ‘critical voice’ depletes the body of positive encouragement and criticizes the person’s daily relationship with food. This voice causes the person’s self-esteem to diminish and may even lead to suicidal thoughts. The opposite voice is empowerment and self-compassion. People recovering from an eating disorder must find their empowering voice to suppress feelings of self-doubt and worthlessness.

Finding the ‘Empowering Voice’

Actively practicing techniques to instill self-compassion allows people during eating disorder recovery to find their own voice. This voice is the opposite of the ‘critical voice’, and ultimately, it is one that embodies self-worth and appreciation for oneself. Fostering self-compassion is an empowering process because it allows people to take ownership of their mind, body, and soul. When people mindfully take control of their own voice, it becomes an essential step towards establishing a positive mental framework. Additionally, it allows people to recognize that their moments of struggle will not overcome their goals and aspirations.

How Can You Incorporate Techniques that Foster Self-Compassion in Your Daily Life?

When people with eating disorders have their ‘critical voice’ nagging at them multiple times a day, it is vital to incorporate coping mechanisms that channel self- empowerment and appreciation. Dr. Neff has identified ways in which you can actively engage in exercises of self-compassion:[1]

  • Give yourself advice. Imagine that your friend or family member is going through a difficult time. Think of the advice you would give to them. Actively try and give yourself the same advice you would give to your loved one when you are struggling. Show yourself the same love and encouragement that you consistently and automatically show others.
  • Actively recognize the moment. Instead of ignoring a moment of difficulty, be aware that it occurred and recognize that all human beings go through difficult times. Being mindful of the present moment helps you to create a clearer pathway towards finding a solution.
  • Write. Whether it is writing a letter of encouragement to yourself or keeping a daily journal, writing is an empowering process that helps you to find your own voice. Writing letters of encouragement, creating goals, or reflecting on daily progress can help you to retain more positive thoughts. Writing also creates a productive outlet for you to share your inner thoughts and reflect on your emotions without the fear of judgment or discouragement.
  • Reframe the ‘critical voice.’ Actively try to recognize environmental or social triggers that bring out the ‘critical voice.’ If you can anticipate when the ‘critical voice’ will arise, practice how you will respond in those tough moments. Have a predetermined outlet for positivity. This could be positive self-talk, self-soothing techniques, or engaging in activities you enjoy to distract yourself.
  • Identify your goals. Identify your goals with an eating disorder specialist. What do you want to achieve during your eating disorder recovery? Reward yourself by doing things you enjoy when you have reached your goals. You have the willpower and strength to treat yourself as your primary concern.
  • Take time for yourself. Engage in activities you enjoy. Calming practices such as yoga and meditation are phenomenal outlets to establish mindfulness of the present moment. Finding productive outlets throughout your day that strengthen your mind, body, and soul will help you to instill a positive mindset.

The humbling thing about being human is that everyone goes through difficult moments every day. We must learn to incorporate more positive energy and foster self-love and understanding. If you find that you are struggling, do not be afraid to try and understand that moment. If you reframe your thoughts, you can diminish the ‘critical voice.’ By practicing techniques in self-compassion, you will reinvigorate your empowering voice and continue on a journey of recovery.

Greta Gleissner is the Founder of Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists, a nationwide network of eating disorder treatment specialists that provide meal coaching and recovery skills such as CBT, DBT, ACT, MI, etc. EDRS work alongside treatment programs, teams and families to provide transitional aftercare support for post-residential treatment clients.


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