Friday, January 14, 2011

The Self-Compassion Diet

By Sophia

I did something radically different (for me) this morning.

Instead of wolfing a bowl of cereal while hunched over my computer—I’m busy, who has time to eat?--I closed my laptop, gazed out the window, and ate my shredded oats in yogurt one square at a time. I tasted it, enjoyed its crunch, and imagined its course from mouth to stomach.

Every time I felt myself tensing up (tick-tock, tick-tock, work is waiting!) I glanced at the clock. My little breakfast took all of six minutes. Which means I must finish off my breakfast cereal in two or three minutes, eating at my usual pace. Wow. Do I even chew?

I’m trying to learn mindful eating, and it’s not easy. But I have come to believe that really paying attention to our body’s hunger and satiation cues, to our food, and to our own cravings is key to having a healthy relationship with food. And that (along with exercise, of course) leads to a better body without a lot of deprivation.

That’s why I’m going off-script today to talk about a book called The Self-Compassion Diet: A Step-by-Step Program to Lose Weight With Loving Kindnesswritten by a colleague and Facebook friend, psychotherapist Jean Fain, LICSW, MSW.

Fain’s program is not a diet, but techniques to change your relationship with food and yourself. It has four components: mindful eating, self-compassion, social support, and hypnosis. (Fain, a teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School, is a certified hypnotherapist. “No, I can’t make you act like a chicken,” she assures us in her YouTube Mindful Eating Trance video.)

The book, written in a friendly and reassuring tone, alternates theory and practice and is full of quizzes, case studies, guided meditations, “Thinspiration” sidebars, and, rather than an FAQ, NSQs: No Stupid Questions.

As the title indicates, self-compassion is an important player here--that is, not beating yourself up about food, or anything else for that matter. (In describing my usual breakfast pace, above, I first ended the paragraph by writing “And that’s gross.” But that’s not a nice thing to say about myself, and it’s counterproductive. If I’m so gross, will I bother taking care of myself? So I changed it. Self-compassion at work.)

I'm cherry picking through the book, finding ideas and inspiration that speaks to me. For a couple of days I kept a food diary of what I ate, when, my mood, and how hungry I was at the time. From that, I realized (to my surprise) how out of touch I am with my body’s hunger cues. One reason I eat fast is because I ignore my hunger until it hurts. Now, I’m trying to note when I’m hungry and take care of it with "delicious, nutritious food" before my stomach yells at me. (Next learning curve is stopping when I’m full.)

I’m also trying to eat mindfully. The operative word is “trying”--I’m not entirely successful yet, but that’s OK. Self-compassion again. I’m dabbling in the hypnosis part of the program, but I’m still a little tightly wound for that. I’m intrigued, though.

Mindful eating is something you could learn and practice on your own. But like any skill, professional advice and guidance is always useful because you don’t know what you don’t know. I like this book, and it’s already given me food for thought.

Jean Fain’s Video About Mindfully Eating a Twinkie

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