disorderd eating

Self-Compassion and Embodiment While Recovering from Disordered Eating

This is a guest article by my colleague, Sarah Patten, one of the Registered Dietitians with the Marci RD Nutrition team.

The cold days of February are upon us and the winter doldrums have settled in for many. On the days when I’m most longing for warm weather and sunshine, I try to remain grateful that at least the daylight is growing longer bit by bit – we’re getting closer to spring with each day!

disordered eatingThe winter is certainly a time of hibernation and slowing down, but for me, it’s also a time when I know I need to schedule things to look forward to throughout the long, dark days to keep my spirits up. That being said, I jumped at the opportunity to hear Ann Saffi Biasetti, PhD, LCSW, and author of the new book, “Befriending your Body,” speak a few weeks ago about her research and perspectives on the importance of self-compassion and embodiment in the recovery process and was not disappointed that I ventured out on a cold evening to hear what she had to say.

The basic takeaways of her research and book: self-compassion and connecting to one’s body are absolutely ESSENTIAL in the process of recovering from disordered eating. Her writing details how to realistically take steps to foster both of these elements in one’s life with the hope of moving towards a place of freedom with food and strength in one’s self.

When I reflect on the work that I do with my clients around recovery from eating disorders, disordered eating, and poor body image, the two themes that I find myself talking about the most are finding ways to be more compassionate for oneself and create more gentle space for one’s experience as well as re-learning how to connect to the body. Often times, these two objectives are the scariest and most daunting tasks of the recovery journey.

The majority of those affected by disordered eating and poor body image are intensely critical of themselves and have little capacity to hold a space of compassion for what they have endured and where they are at in life.

They also often have disconnected from their body, typically out of fear or protection, and find it terrifying to think about being back in connection and relationship with their body once more. Ann’s research and book show us that these two factors are absolutely critical in the process of recovery. The ability to be WITH oneself in a kind way during moments of suffering (i.e., self-compassion) instead of avoiding or distracting fosters resilience and an internal trust that you can tolerate hard things.

The majority of those affected by disordered eating and poor body image are intensely critical of themselves and have little capacity to hold a space of compassion for what they have endured and where they are at in life.

They also often have disconnected from their body, typically out of fear or protection, and find it terrifying to think about being back in connection and relationship with their body once more. Ann’s research and book show us that these two factors are absolutely critical in the process of recovery. The ability to be WITH oneself in a kind way during moments of suffering (i.e.,self-compassion) instead of avoiding or distracting fosters resilience and an internal trust that you can tolerate hard things.

So. How do we do this?

disordered eating books

Finding self-compassion may feel completely unattainable to you as you read this, but to start, bring to mind a person or even a pet in your life who has shown compassion to you or to others that you’ve witnessed. Or perhaps, reflect on your own ability to be compassionate to others, even if that same compassion is challenging to extend to yourself.

Once you know what compassion feels or looks like, you know you’re capable of it (we all are!).

From there, your practice slowly but surely becomes training yourself to find the moments when you’re harsh or critical with yourself and practicing saying “What would I say to a friend right now?” or “What might a friend say to me in this moment?”

In addition, choosing to reconnect with the body is a bold and courageous choice, particularly in a world that labels the body as the enemy to be controlled vs. the ally to accompany you through life. Though this may seem insurmountable at first, try finding simple ways to connect to your body and let it know you’re listening. What’s the temperature of the room like? How do your feet feel when walking on soft carpet vs a hardwood floor? How do you know when your bladder is full and it’s time to go to the bathroom? Can you listen to and take care of that need? What’s it like to bend over to one side and then the other? Where do you feel sensation in your body when you do this? What’s it like to follow your breath in and out and notice where you feel it in your body?

These relatively simple questions can help you to start rebuilding a relationship with your body where it may feel more manageable to connect to the subtle ways in which our body communicates its needs and experience.

Bottom line – these practices are hard work. There’s no getting around that. But with continued practice, they are completely possible and can yield a much more peaceful existence with both your inner and outer world. How can you offer yourself a little more self-compassion today? How can you be in touch with your body just a little bit more than usual? Give it a try.

To help you get started on a journey to discover the world of body acceptance we have created a guidebook with all sorts of resources for you to explore on your journey. “But I Hate My Body: Cracking the Code on Body Acceptance” is a list of What to Watch, Read and Listen to on your Journey to Body Acceptance.

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