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One of the most useful books I’ve read recently—for myself, clients, and blog readers—is Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself by Kristen Neff, PhD. This book is for all of you, no matter what kind of dysregulated eater you are or where you are in your recovery. Whether you know it or not, self-compassion is key to recovering from dysregulated eating. This is one trait we can never have enough of.
Aside from presenting research supporting how increased self-compassion helps us improve our lives in myriad ways, offering practical advice about learning to be kind to ourselves, explaining the implication of research studies in lay terms, and providing easy-to-identify-with case examples, this book details Neff’s own journey from being hard on herself to giving herself loving kindness. She explains what self compassion is (meeting suffering with kindness) and what it isn’t (letting yourself off the hook, feeling sorry for yourself, approving of everything you do), and describes in evolutionary terms why humans are bent toward self-criticism, not self-compassion: seeing the negative is hard-wired into us to stay safe and avoid perceived harm. Our brains are built to go into criticism mode whenever we make a mistake or feel even mildly threatened.
A major point that Neff makes, which is pivotal to recovering from dysregulated eating, is that compassionate rather than critical self-talk actually improves and sustains our motivation. This makes perfect sense. When we feel badly about ourselves, we want to give up, and when we feel good about ourselves, we want to keep going. Get it? I’ll go out on a limb here from my decades of working with dysregulated eaters who are soooo hard on themselves to say that if they could change one thing about themselves, I hope it would be to become more self-compassionate.
Compassion and self-compassion transform many of the unhealthy traits that dysregulated eaters have: 1) Feeling that you are the only one who suffers. You’re not. We all suffer in one way or another, so welcome to the club. 2) Not feeling good enough because you often feel less than in relation to others. Compassion helps you accept and value yourself wherever you are on the human spectrum. 3) Insisting on being perfect. Compassion teaches you to love yourself when you’ve messed up or even when you feel you’re the worst person in the world. 4) Facing having binged, purged, eaten too much or too little, or having seen a number on the scale you don’t like. Giving yourself compassion helps you accept your eating problems. 5) Comforting yourself when you’re upset. Most dysregulated eaters don’t know how to self-soothe and their self-talk exacerbates self-hatred and self-devaluation. Being kind to yourself makes you feel less badly.
I truly could go on and on about how self-compassion is the missing piece to so many of your problems—eating and otherwise. It is the gift to yourself that keeps on giving and will have a cherished place in your life long after you’ve recovered from dysregulated eating. Take the self-compassion test on Neff’s website, http://self-compassion.org/test-how-self-compassionate-you-are/ and see just how badly you need to read this book.
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