Self Compassion, Part One

biscuit rainbowby Abigail Hammond, MS,RD,LDN

As I listen to my clients’ unique life stories, a unifying theme emerges: a distinct absence of understanding, positive regard and warmth toward self. This lack of self-compassion shows up in many ways—for example, in that relentless, self-deprecating voice following an experience of binge eating, or in that barrage of negative thoughts one has when behaving in a manner not in line with one’s true self. For me, I notice self-compassion’s absence when it comes to sleep. Lying awake and yet well aware of how exhausted I am, frustration and impatience come far more easily than kindness to my tired mind. No matter how it manifests, a self-compassion shortage makes day-to-day life and especially behavioral change all the more challenging. Self-compassion is pivotal to full recovery from an eating disorder.

So what exactly is self-compassion? Kristin Neff, Professor at the University of Texas at Austin and renowned self-compassion researcher, defines self-compassion as having three elements: self-kindness (replacing self-criticism with understanding); common humanity (a recognition that our suffering is part of the shared human experience); and mindfulness. Dr. Neff further describes self-compassion as an allowance “to turn toward and face the difficult feelings that arise when considering our own mistakes and misdeeds, meaning that we see ourselves more clearly and do what’s needed to make things better.”

Dr. Neff’s mention of turning toward rather than away from our negative feelings is worth noting. Building self-compassion around food, we may first observe what feelings we use food to avoid. Perhaps eating distracts from a sadness we can’t seem to pinpoint, or we may turn to eating as a refuge from chronic stress at work—that feeling that no matter how many hours we put in, it’s still not enough. Over time, by uncoupling the act of eating from our sometimes uncomfortable feelings, we begin to observe our feelings for what they have to teach us. Lo and behold, in building this awareness, we are practicing self-compassion.

Reference: Neff, K. (2012, July 3). Does self-compassion mean letting yourself off the hook? HuffPost Healthy Living Blog. Retrieved from