I’ve been thinking… if there was only one thing I could tell someone who wanted to become an intuitive eater, that would change their relationship with food more powerfully than anything else, it would be this:
Be kind to yourself.
I find myself thinking about this most often after I’ve finished a coaching session with a client. I don’t know if it’s just that I attract people who are hard on themselves because I have a history of doing the same, or if it really is a universal problem amongst those of us who struggle with eating, but I do know that lack of self-compassion causes the very problems it wants to solve.
I got my first clue about this phenomenon when I was 23, sitting on a crusty futon in a dilapidated warehouse in West Oakland. My life was completely unraveled and I felt helpless to fix it. I was paralyzed with anxiety and furious with myself. Why couldn’t I make myself do what I knew was right?
I spent so much time yelling at myself inside my head, but it didn’t make any difference.
Suddenly I woke up to that truth: If I kept doing the same thing, and it kept not working, then obviously I needed to try something else. But what?!?!
I didn’t figure out the answer immediately, but asking the right question is half the battle.
I received my first education on self-compassion when I started going to a Vipassana meditation group. When it came to offering kindness and compassion, I noticed that I was very willing to offer it to others, but I didn’t feel that I deserved to give it to myself.
Ouch. It hurts my heart to think about it: I really didn’t think that I deserved kindness unless I had earned it by meeting certain standards of behavior.
This is true for so many of us in our relationship with food. We are sick of feeling out of control around food. We’re angry with ourselves for not eating “right.” Our inner dialogue around food is harsh and punitive.
You may, like 20-something me, have realized that being hard on yourself is not helping, and yet, you’re still not sure what to do instead.
In a former career, I was a school teacher. One morning I was extremely frustrated with one of my students who kept doing the same thing despite all of my efforts to shift her behavior. Though I am usually very calm with kids, I allowed anger to slip into my voice as I spoke to her. As I paused to take a breath, I looked down into her eyes and saw tears starting to form. My compassion reawakened and I asked her if she wanted a hug. She accepted, and that hug transformed the issue in a way that nothing else had.
By now you might be thinking, “That’s all very sweet, but I can’t fix my eating problems by being kind to myself. Being too easy on myself is what got me here in the first place.”
Well, let’s talk about what being kind to yourself actually means, in the context of eating. Eating to the point of feeling sick isn’t kind. Starving yourself isn’t kind. Making yourself feel guilty isn’t kind. Scrutinizing and criticizing your choices isn’t kind.
Here are some things that are kind:
- Eating until you feel satisfied.
- Doing what you can to feel good in your body.
- Giving your body, brain, and heart, rest when needed.
- Regularly engaging in fun and stress reducing activities.
- Forgiving yourself for making mistakes.
- Viewing your behavior with curiosity rather than judgment.
Self-care is not self-indulgence, and it drives me crazy that we tend to view it that way. When we take a car in to have its oil changed, are we being indulgent? Are we somehow encouraging the car to be overly needy or to behave badly when we perform regular maintenance? No! Of course not!
When a car or a body is not maintained well, it doesn’t perform well. A car doesn’t need to do anything to “deserve” being treated well, and neither do you. You deserve kindness no matter what.
If you see yourself as worthy of care, you’ll take better care of yourself.
Being kind to yourself won’t fix everything, but it will make you more capable of changing your eating habits.
And remember: If what you’re doing now isn’t working, you don’t have much to lose by trying something different.