For one of my clients, the idea of cultivating kindness and understanding toward self brings an uncomfortable shift in posture at some moments, total resistance at others. This client has observed that practicing self-compassion feels awkward. Though it hurts her in the long run, engaging instead in self-criticism almost feels better because it is what she knows. Additionally, some people may fear that self-compassion fosters laziness, believing that some degree of self-criticism is needed to get through the daily grind. And while we might think that a harsh and critical stance can “cure” self-defeating behaviors, research suggests the opposite is true.
A recent study by Kendrin Sonneville and colleagues at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School found that adolescent girls who were less satisfied with their bodies were more likely to engage in binge eating. Those with more positive body image were less likely to binge eat and gain weight over time. In short, a more positive regard for one’s body led to overall more healthful behavior. This makes sense: If we generally regard something with disgust, would we want to do what’s best for it? Finally, if self-compassion is rooted in warmth and understanding, does being self-compassionate mean indulging in our favorite foods without a sense of guilt? If we do indulge, a self-compassionate stance would be to stay curious about the behavior in order to gain understanding of why it occurs. Over time, this clarity combined with increased mindfulness can guide us toward actions that support our emotional and physical well-being.
References: Sonneville, K. R., Calzo, J. P., Horton, N. J., Haines, J., Austin, S. B., & Field, A. E. (2012). Body satisfaction, weight gain and binge eating among overweight adolescent girls. International Journal of Obesity, 36, 944-949.