Self-Compassion: A Necessary Component in Binge Eating Disorder Recovery
By Camille Williams, MA, NCC, LCPC, Timberline Knolls Eating Disorder Program Coordinator
Although all eating disorders (EDs) have similarities, there is one distinct difference with the binge eating disorder (BED) population in particular. EDs that are a result of weight loss are often reinforced and praised with comments such as “you look so good!” or “I wish I had your willpower!” The BED population experiences the opposite, and instead often receives criticism and judgment both verbally and non-verbally from others about the body and relationship with food. Many people who have EDs feel shame and the BED population has the added impact of being shamed by others.
The amount of shame carried by the BED population is incredibly heavy and burdensome. And what begins the healing process of shame? Self-compassion. It can be defined as kindness, care, and understanding provided to self especially in times of struggle. This is incredibly difficult to do because shame is constantly fighting against compassion. Shame says, “I’m not good enough” and “I need to change.” For someone with BED, shame may also exclaim, “I need to stop eating!” or “I am so fat, I need to lose weight!” This self-shaming routine only perpetuates bingeing behaviors because of the sense of comfort when experiencing upsetting experiences or emotions. One way to stop this cycle is changing the negative self-talk by inviting in self-compassion.
Self-compassion language sounds like the support one might offer to a struggling friend. Many people have limited practice applying this support and kindness to themselves. Self-compassion talk might sound like, “I am having a rough time and trying to find a way to cope with difficult feelings.” Self-compassion in the recovery process can also sound like, “bingeing may feel desirable right now and I know it’s only a temporary solution, so how else can I take care of myself?”
For those in recovery, using self-compassionate language will most likely feel incredibly uncomfortable and even wrong at first. The shame voice has probably been strengthened so much over time that the self-compassion voice has deteriorated and needs to be utilized to bring it back to life. The resistance to practicing self-compassion is normal because of how unfamiliar and strange it can feel. This can be increasingly challenging for the BED population if they have been shamed by others and therefore are lacking in experiences of compassion from others.
Some may try to use shame as a motivator to accomplish goals believing that berating self will lead to change. However, shame has been shown to have the opposite effect, in which it actually keeps people stuck in the addictive cycle due to increased depression and anxiety. Self-compassion allows space to work towards change, make mistakes, and still honor a sense of worth. This worthiness provides an opportunity for decreased addictive behaviors because of slowly building confidence in self and ability to accomplish goals as well as decreasing emotional dysregulation.
Self-compassion is a very effective tool for ED recovery. It will take a lot of willingness and effort for both the ED individual and the support system to help incorporate these new habits and practices.
“Self-compassion means acknowledging that we are imperfect humans doing the best we can and trying to be kind to ourselves in the process” – Kristin Neff
*For more resources on self-compassion please visit Kristin Neff’s website at https://self-compassion.org/
TK Contributor: As the Timberline Knolls Eating Disorder Program Coordinator, Camille Williams MA, NCC, LCPC, supports the development of curriculum, supervises the eating disorder specialists, and provides group therapy. She also educates and trains all staff on campus and advocates for eating disorder awareness through publications. Timberline Knolls serves as an iaedp™Presidents Council Member.
*The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders and not intended as endorsement by iaedp Foundation, Inc. or its Board of Directors.*