by Kelly Broadwater, LPA, LCMHC, CEDS-S
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. For those dealing with weight issues, weight stigma, negative body image and disordered eating, it’s not uncommon to struggle with depression, anxiety and trauma.
Over the years, I have treated many clients who have been so badly bullied because of their weight that they experience some of the symptoms of PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder). I’ve also seen that the perpetrators of this bullying are the clients themselves, beating themselves up endlessly with shame, self-criticism and negative judgement over weight, appearance, food choices, and the like.
But there is a powerful secret weapon against all of these: self-compassion.
A plethora of new research has linked self-compassion to positive mental health outcomes. Self-compassion has been shown to lower depression, stress, anxiety and perfectionism while increasing motivation for self-improvement, positive body image and resiliency. Self-compassion research shows promising results for a wide variety of health-related behavior change, including weight management and weight maintenance. Imagine this: a “diet” of daily self-kindness and gratitude!
Be Understanding of Yourself
A pioneer and prominent researcher in the self-compassion field, Dr. Kristen Neff, states, “with self-compassion we give ourselves the same kindness and good care that we’d give a friend.” In my bariatric groups, when someone is shaming themselves for what they aren’t doing “right,” I often ask, “would you say that same thing to a person sitting next to you in this room? What would you say instead?” I’ve found that clients often have no problem giving compassionate and understanding feedback to their fellow group members but struggle to say the same positive things to themselves. Learning and applying self-compassion is key to separating your self-worth from your weight and body image.
How to Practice Self-Compassion Regularly
Where can you start? Find small ways to practice self-compassion regularly.
- Listen to Loving Kindness, a concentration practice. Self-compassion meditations are readily available and can be good for beginners who struggle to conjure up their own self-compassionate mantras.
- Focus on taking the judgement out of a situation. Instead of beating yourself up, can you look at the situation from a neutral point of view? Can you then shift that neutral stance to one that is more gentle and forgiving?
- Look at your perceived failings of shortcomings from a place of common humanity. Nobody is perfect. We all make mistakes. When we know better, we do better.
- Engage in self-compassionate writing exercises. One of my favorites includes making a list of your negative self-talk/self-criticism and them rebutting them with “what would I say to a friend?”
- Play your “highlight reel” – what is everything you’ve done right this week/month/year? What are your proudest moments?
- Pick a card, any card. The Self-Compassion Deck available on Amazon includes 50 different mindfulness-based self-compassion exercises that can be done in a matter of minutes.
- Make an inspiring playlist. Find positive podcasts or TED talks to listen to. Anything by Brene’ Brown is a good place to start!
As with any new skill, practice makes progress. Self-compassion muscles take time to build, but the results will be worth it. In the words of Louise Hey, “You’ve been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.”
- How to Practice Self-Compassion: 8 Techniques and Tips
- The Scientific Benefits of Self-Compassion
- Resources for Looking After Your Self-Compassion
About the Author:
Kelly Broadwater, LPA, LCMHC, CEDS-S, is a psychologist and certified eating disorders specialist. She has nearly 20 years of expertise in working with bariatric patients and has developed a comprehensive aftercare program for WLS patients at her practice, the Chrysalis Center for Counseling & Eating Disorder Treatment. She speaks nationally on topics related to bariatric care and eating disorders.