Self compassion and our relationship with food

One common lifestyle changes people embark upon are changes in the food they eat. Food can be a double-edged sword, we need it to survive. However, with too much a whole range of health problems can arise. Like most people, I for one love food, it gives me a great deal of pleasure, sometimes well needed comfort, as well as the social aspect of eating. Every single one of us has a relationship with food!

 So how does this to our relationship with food, and how can we use self compassion to help us develop a more meaningful and healthy relationship with what and how we eat? Understanding the complexity of far relationship with food is the first step in this journey. And that is what we are going to cover today, looking at it from both an evolutionary and cultural perspective. Stopping blaming ourselves for our difficulties with diets and we had enables us to open up to finding more helpful ways to tackle our eating and exercise patterns.
◦Our brains have evolved to be attracted to foods that are high in fat and sugar
◦Our bodies have evolved to store excess energy (in the form of fat) for leaner times
◦Our brain is not designed to regulate eating, it didn’t need to: food was hard to find, so we had to make the most of it when it was available.

’Our desire for high-fat and high-sugar foods, together with an increasingly intelligent brain with which to find them, and interest in sharing them with other group members, gave us a huge evolutionary advantage. However, as these foods were in short supply, we never had to develop the means to restrain our appetites or our weight’
◦Eating is a highly social event, associated with togetherness and security.
◦Being fed has always been a comforting experience for humans. The link between sweet foods and rewards, or even approval – ‘being a good boy or girl’ – is made early
◦Foods are packaged and displayed in supermarkets to tempt you
◦Slimness is now the culturally desired shape for women, and a flat stomach and well-defined muscles for men.
◦Sometimes our problems with food relate to quite complicated emotional difficulties.
◦Part of the problem with the message, we should avoid being overweight if it’s doing us physical harm, is that it comes with an associated idea that healthy is morally good and unhealthy is morally bad.

You may be thinking, how does this help me change my relationship with food? Will it not just enable me to blame everything on the outside world, using it to reconcile with my status quo? What the self compassionate approach enables us to do is recognise that our relationship with food is all part of being human. So I am not suggesting that we should just ignore all of the problems that come with having a difficult relationship with food. But it is about taking a different approach, where you truly look inside yourself to see what it is that will help you flourish, as this is what being self compassionate is all about.

 Compassion focused therapy helps us to challenge the idea that when someone struggles to manage their eating it is their entire fault. When you start to blame or get angry with yourself, does it make you want to change your eating habits or continue with existing coping mechanisms? By taking a deeply compassionate approach you can actually support yourself better, making lifestyle changes instead of entering into a common vicious cycle of failing to meet your own high expectations, feeling despondent, guilty, and self-critical, choosing  old eating habits as a way of coping. Instead, love yourself for who you are, recognise all of the reasons we as humans tend to have the kinds of relationships with food that we do, encouraging yourself as you would a child to look after and love both your body and your mind.

Dr. Kristine Abercrombie