Is kindness really the way out?
We recently had a participant in our online e-course No More Weighting comment:
I can’t even count how many times I’ve heard kindness, love, acceptance and letting go of what isn’t serving you is what will create positive change… but that is all so vague to me. Exactly what do that look/sound like? What are some examples of exactly how to do this? Are these thoughts? Are these actions? I know it’s not a passive process, but what does that active process entail?
We talk a lot about turning to ourselves with kindness and compassion at Be Nourished. Over the years, we’ve seen time and time again, that real lasting freedom from food and body dissatisfaction and disordered eating patterns comes when we are able to practice non-judgemental self awareness and small consistent acts based in weight-neutral self care. Yes, all this talk of kindness and acceptance can feel pretty abstract when we’re first introduced to it. But what does this really look like? How do we put this into practice?
Let’s take a look at how we might find ourselves in a cycle or pattern around food that we feel like has a hold on us that we want to find some freedom from. For many of us this involves eating beyond our own comfort, emotional eating, or bingeing. Some folks find themselves engaging in restriction, body checking, or purging. And many folks find themselves in cycles that involve a combination of these behaviors or others.
Whatever our own particular behavior, we know it when we’re in it. We can often feel it coming, and we feel out of control, unable to stop ourselves. And then, once we give in, for a while we feel relief, respite, the tension has finally broken. And for most of us there comes a time during or after that we start feeling really bad about ourselves. We hear the voice of our inner critic and it could be saying things to us like “you’re so disgusting” or “you have no willpower” or “you’re so weak, here you go again doing the same stuff you always do….what’s WRONG with you?” Sound familiar?
The thing is, for most of us (before we learn to notice and interrupt it), we hear this voice, and we believe it. Every word it says, we take it as the truth. Every terrible word it says about us. And we feel terrible. We get caught in a shame spiral (sometimes we call this the shitstorm). What if, instead of letting this voice run rampant in our minds and let it tell us terrible, oversimplified things about ourselves, we were to notice that voice, and name it for what it is. Simply naming and acknowledging this voice can be powerful. And then we can ask it to be quiet.
Another thing we can do for ourselves is to recognize and honor the wisdom of our coping. It can be helpful to remember that we often turn to coping and numbing mechanisms such as food when we are overwhelmed and we often don’t know what our needs are, let alone how we can meet them. Instead of continuing to beat ourselves up, we can offer ourselves kindness and compassion – then and there – by asking ourselves What do I really need right now? What need have I been trying to meet with this coping behavior? Do I need soothing? Do I need a break? Do I need connection? Alone time? Do I need to vent? Speak my truth? Feel heard or seen? Something else?
Once we have a little clarity about our needs, we can find ways to get those needs met. Perhaps we can get some of our needs met right now. And meeting some of our needs may be more complex and take more time. This practice is often a combination of thoughts and actions, depending on what is going on and what is available to us at different times in our days and lives.
We can close our eyes and breathe for a few moments if that feels like it would help. We can make time to spend with a friend or loved one, or make time to be alone. We can journal or draw to get into connection with our inner voice, whether in a cafe, our bedroom, or even our bathroom if that’s the only place we can get a few minutes to ourselves. Whatever feels accessible and supportive. We can make an appointment with a therapist or bodyworker if that feels right and we have the resources. We can find ways to bring more of whatever it is we recognize that we need into our lives.
Honestly, how we treat ourselves after we engage a behavior we wish we didn’t is more important than the behavior itself. So, to summarize, a few ways we can practice this self compassion when we find ourselves engaging in behavior that we want to be free from are:
- Recognize and honor that there is wisdom in your coping.
- Notice the voice of the inner critic and ask it to please be quiet for a moment.
- Check in with yourself about what you might be needing right now.
- Find some small ways to meet some of your needs in the moment.
It was Audre Lorde that taught us that “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” The weapons of shame, tough love, discipline and conditional self regard to untangle our wise and necessary ways of coping from our efforts to liberate ourselves. This work is not about becoming better behaved. This work is about growing in trust and understanding of your inner workings, your well-honed and wise patterns, and the way internalized fatphobia has worked through you. Kindness offers a path to freedom and a entrypoint to a relationship with yourself that you want to be in and sustain. Try different instead of harder, friends.