Are you too hard on yourself about your eating?
Minh-Hai Tran, MS, RD, CSSD
Hello Friend!
Thanks for reading the first issue of Mindful Nutrition News!  I'm excited to share tips and resources about non-diet nutrition to help you make peace with food and attain true health and well-being.  I'd love to hear from you; feel free to shoot me an email with feedback on how these tips are working for you or ideas on what would be most helpful.

Hope you are enjoying the blossoming trees, more sun, and longer days of spring.

Self-Compassion: A Surprising Key to Healthier Eating

I've been fascinated by the topic of self-compassion from a personal standpoint for quite some time, and now intrigued about early research showing its potential in promoting a healthy relationship with food.  First, what exactly is self-compassion?  According to Dr. Kristin Neff, professor and pioneer researcher of self-compassion at the University of Texas at Austin, self-compassion is comprised of three main components:  1) self-kindness (being warm and understanding to yourself, especially during times of suffering or feeling inadequate)  2) mindfulness (paying attention and noticing moments of stress or suffering without judgment) and 3) common humanity (recognizing that you're not alone in your pain and that suffering is part of the shared human experience).

So how is self-compassion helpful when it comes to your nutritional health?  A study conducted at Wake Forest University involving college girls (many of whom are restrained eaters) and Dunkin' Doughnuts provides us with some clues.  Eighty-four female college students were asked to eat a doughnut, thinking they were part of a food-tasting study.  Afterwards, half of the group was encouraged to be self-compassionate by a researcher (the researcher's message to the girls included the three components above).  When the women were later asked to taste-test different candies, those who were encouraged to be self-compassionate earlier ate significantly less candy.  The researchers theorized that self-compassion may help lessen emotional eating.  It makes sense: just as it's easier to open up and be real with a friend who is kind, understanding, and non-judgmental, it's also easier to stay present when we can extend those same qualities to ourselves.  On the other hand, self-criticism and judgment about what you've eaten often increases the urge to continue overeating (or undereating).

Wondering whether you're too hard on yourself when it comes to your eating habits?  Jean Fain, psychotherapist, Harvard Medical School instructor and author of The Self-Compassion Diet, graciously gave me permission to reprint an adapted version of her "Self-Compassionate Eating Quiz" to help you assess where you're at:   


Self-Compassionate Eating Quiz

Check eight statements that come closest to reflecting your general experience:
__1.  When I eat something I consider "bad," like a donut, I can't stop thinking about how I've blown it.
__2.  After an indulgent weekend, I trust myself to rein in my eating.
__3.  I often feel alone with my eating issues, but I know I'm not.
__4.  When I eat junk food, I try not to beat myself up too much.
__5.  I may feel uncomfortable if I'm bloated or a few pounds heavier, but it doesn't stop me from enjoying social activities.
__6.  I might never love my body, but I know I'd like it better X pounds lighter.
__7.  No one struggles with eating like I do.
__8.  I don't trust myself to eat when I'm hungry and stop when I'm full, but I'd like to learn.
__9.  I can get down on myself when I'm bloated or a few pounds heavier, but I'll still go out in baggier clothes.
__10.  Paying attention to my hunger makes me want to eat, so I try to ignore it.
__11.  I'm always interested in what my body has to say about hunger and fullness.
__12.  If I lose one to two pounds per week, I'll never reach my goal weight.
__13.  I'd like to jumpstart my weight loss with a crash diet and then eat healthfully.
__14.  I didn't stick to my eating plan the whole weekend; all my weight loss efforts are for nothing.
__15.  When I eat something less than healthful, I try to savor it all the same.
__16.  I really indulged myself over the weekend; I'm afraid to step on the scale.
__17.  When I feel bloated or especially fat, I won't leave the house.
__18.  After overeating, I feel like punishing myself, but I know trying to compensate in some way only makes me feel worse.
__19.  Overeating is a signal to care for myself more, not less.
__20.  After I overeat, self-punishment (e.g. restricting food intake, purging or over-exercising) is the only thing that makes me feel better.
__21.  My weight takes care of itself when I feel myself delicious, wholesome food.
__22.  When I'm overweight, I feel gross; I hate my body.
__23.  Everybody overeats and feels stuffed on occasion.
__24.  I love and respect my body.

Scoring Sheet:

Give yourself 1 point per statement for checking any of the following:
1, 7, 10, 12, 14, 17, 20, 22
Subtotal: ___

Give yourself 2 points per statement for checking any of the following:
3, 4, 6, 8, 9, 13, 16, 18
Subtotal: ___

Give yourself 3 points per statement for checking any of the following:
2, 5, 11, 15, 19, 21, 23, 24
Subtotal: ___

Total Score: ___

Your Score and What to Make of It:

When it comes to self-compasion, 0-8 means you're running on fumes; 9-16, your tank is half-full; 17-24, you've got way more self-compassion than the average American. 
Even if you're already pretty kind to yourself, know that even a slight increase in self-compassion can brighten your worldview, give you more emotional balance, help you get a handle on your eating, and facilitate sustainable healthy behaviors.

Your therapist :-)
Neff, Kristin. Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind
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