The research into the mental, emotional, and physical benefits of self-compassion is piling up: More than 400 studies and dissertations have been published since Kristin Neff, PhD, broke ground on the topic in 2003. Self-compassion—being as kind to yourself as you would a dear friend—turns out to be helpful for everything from lessening susceptibility to PTSD to soothing stress for mothers of autistic children.
And self-compassion can help with weight loss by reconnecting us with our bodies in a kind and nonjudgmental way. If you struggle with overeating, you're probably locked into hand-to-mouth combat with your body: angry with it, mentally disconnected from it, not hearing the messages it sends you. Self-compassion is a route to reconnecting with our bodies and learning to love, respect, and listen to them. And that, research finds, helps people lose weight.
I first learned about self-compassion from Jean Fain, LICSW, MSW, a Harvard-affiliated psychotherapist and author of The Self-Compassion Diet: A Step-By-Step Program to Lose Weight With Loving Kindness. Fain is anti-diet when it comes to our traditional approach of deprivation and scolding, which doesn't do anything to change our relationship with food. Fain's approach is not about denial. She wants us to eat delicious, nutritious food mindfully and in moderation, eating when we're hungry and stopping when we're sated. "Honoring your hunger is essential," she says.
Fain conducts group Self-Compassion-Based Eating Awareness Training in her hometown of Concord, Mass., and online, via Skype. Now you can also download audio of the training, eight recorded sessions plus homework.
Meditation and mindfulness are major players in the program. Fain guides you through mindful eating of various snacks; most sessions require you come prepared with specific foods. And you'll have homework: reading and meditations. Body image is also part of the program, and meditations and exercises help and encourage us to value the body we have.
In her gentle, hypnotic voice (she's also a hypnotherapist), Fain has us evaluate our level of self-compassion; teaches us how to recognize different kinds of hunger, when we're hungry and when we're full; explains taste-specific satiety—that is, when we've had enough of a particular flavor to feel satisfied. One reason we tend to overeat at buffets is because of the variety of foods available; when we are sated on one taste, other foods still look delicious, whether or not we are still hungry.
I don't have a particular problem with overeating but I do tend to eat crazy fast, and this program caused me to analyze that. I realized that the texture of food is as important to me as the flavor and so sometimes I gobble because once a food is chewed, it's not so interesting anymore. I want to get to the next fresh bite. I'm also trying to be more mindful of physical versus emotional hunger; those times when I try to sate boredom with chips.
Unfortunately, just knowing these things doesn't guarantee change. I have to exercise the discipline of mindful eating every day if it's ever to become second nature. And that's the real challenge here.
The lessons, meditations, exercises, and homework are interesting and eye-opening, but you have to stick with the program. Then you have take the lessons with you into your day-to-day life. The real change comes when you're on your own, looking at full bag of chips or a pint of Hagen Daz or a wheel of Brie or whatever your hardest-to-resist temptations are.
Staying the course--even making it through all eight lessons--when you're going it alone on a program like this takes discipline. For that reason, taking one of Fain's classes might be more productive: nothing like accountability to keep you on-task.
Still, at $75, the training is a bit of an investment, and you may find that is motivation enough to stick with it. And if you come out of the program with nothing more than an awareness of how and when you struggle in your relationship with food, then you've gained a lot. After all, that's what mindfulness is. Just planting that seed in your brain might someday grow new, healthier eating habits after all.
To learn more about Jean Fain and purchase the recorded eating-awareness training, visit JeanFain.com.