You're trying to lose weight. To be healthy. To eat right. You've set goals. Hard goals. Ambitious goals. Tough goals. And you're determined to stick to the goals, whatever the cost. Even if it takes a toll on your health in other ways, it's worth it ... right?
You know that if you're not tough on yourself, you'll never reach your weight loss goals. So you make your regimen about self-hate. Self-judgment. Self-criticism. And yet, as hard as you are on yourself, you often fail to reach your weight-loss goals. You're not as toned, as slim and as healthy as you thought you'd be by now, so you start the cycle of self-hate, self-judgement, self-criticism again.
But there's another way. A way that's not only self-compassionate, but also effective.
More and more evidence proves that self-compassion — being kind to yourself and accepting yourself without judgment — is linked to healthy behavior. A recent study suggests several things self-compassionate people do that leads them to make healthier choices:
1. They set appropriate goals.
Self-compassionate people are likely to set more realistic and safer health-related goals. For example, many people get dispirited when they don't reach the often too-lofty weight loss goals they've set at the start of a diet. By contrast, self-compassionate individuals are in it for the long haul and aren't pressured to engage in extreme goals.
2. They monitor their health goals.
Self-compassionate people monitor health goals (such as target weight or distance and time at the gym), taking responsibility for their role in health problems without experiencing the detrimental effects of worry or self-blame. They're free to focus on getting back on track if they "fall off the wagon."
Remember: We have limited resources. The more self-compassion we have and the less we're spending those resources on suppressing emotional reactions, the more we can spare to monitor our goals.
3. They pay attention mindfully.
Mindfulness is a key component of self-compassion. Mindful individuals pay attention to their experiences on their diet or health program in a nonjudgmental, patient and accepting manner. Their balanced perspective means they're not overly affected by their successes or failures.
Self-compassionate people are less likely to let judgmental or defensive thoughts derail them, so they can cope with a spread of negative feelings, respond more effectively to threats to their diets and are better at managing emotional distress when their goals are not met than those who are low in self-compassion.
4. They let go of unhelpful goals.
Sometimes the self-compassionate thing to do is release a goal that's too challenging. Self-compassionate people are more likely to focus on goals that directly promote their well-being, let go of failure, and focus instead on alternative goals. If seeking a health-related goal (e.g., losing a specific amount of weight) becomes detrimental to well-being or is unobtainable, a self-compassionate person might pursue an alternative, healthier goal, such as being able to walk for a certain distance.
A Two-Sided Approach
With these steps, you can approach using self-compassion to lose weight from two sides, using whichever direction you find works best for you.
First, look at the four behaviors above and be kinder to yourself by engaging directly in them. How many of the following questions can you say yes to?
- Are your goals realistic?
- Do you keep an eye on your goals without self-blame and take responsibility for getting back on track when necessary?
- Do you manage your emotions about health challenges with compassion?
- Are you comfortable letting go or replacing a goal if it no longer serves you?
If you said no to any of these, you could work directly on that. For example, setting realistic goals or managing your emotions regarding your efforts to get fit or lose weight.
You could also work directly on your self-compassion. You'll find this enables you to make healthier choices more frequently and with less angst, and you'll lose weight and become fitter because of it. Here's a great place to start:
A few of times a day, or whenever you feel unhappy, anxious or have any negative feelings about your health, ask yourself, What do I need to hear right now to be kind to myself? Then look into your own eyes in the mirror and out loud, tell yourself what you need to hear. If you need to take action, take action. But do it a little at a time, step-by-step ... kindly.
Show self-compassion and it will support a virtuous circle of healthy behaviors: eating better, exercising more, getting more restful sleep, managing stress effectively. These behaviors lead directly to weight loss and fitness.
You have nothing to lose except weight. Be kind to yourself. Your body and your mind will thank you.
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