Gifts, Gratitude, and Self-compassion

This holiday season is bound to be…far from traditional. 

So how can we deal with more change without turning to disordered eating as a coping strategy? 

As you all know, this year has been a doozy, and it is still serving up plenty of trials without mercy. This December alone, the typical stress of the holiday season is hurtling towards us at full-speed, neck-and-neck with a second bout of lockdowns and the potential loss of treasured traditions. 

It’s a lot. 

Henceforth, I find it is due time to discuss control and compassion–how they are related to eating behaviors, and how they can affect our mental health. 

It is well-known that control is a prevalent factor that drives someone towards disordered eating. In fact, the most common definition I’ve seen describing an eating disorder incorporates the topic of control—touting it as a form of compensation when external factors seem out of our hands and micromanaging food intake becomes the coping strategy. (Hmmm, external factors seeming out-of-control… does that sound familiar to anyone?) Many also include how these habits can eventually spin out of control and end up controlling us. 

Obviously, this topic is much more complicated than what can be addressed within a definition. Eating habits are inseparably tied up with mental health, which is an incredibly individual and nuanced subject in itself. Also, I find it unfair and dangerous to box-in what is an eating disorder and what isn’t. Everyone faces their own challenges with body image, there is no one “look” to someone struggling with their relationship with food, and it can impact people of all ages, body sizes, genders, socioeconomic status, etc. So instead of breaking down the factors that can influence the way we view ourselves and what we put on our plates, I want to discuss how we can uplift our spirits this holiday season by healing with self-compassion. 

Self-compassion and forgiveness are some of the most powerful tools we can utilize during recovery and within our daily lives to improve our mood and self-esteem. Imagine our potential, if instead of turning towards food habits when the events of our lives are out of our hands, we could focus on finding control in the way we speak to ourselves, the way we treat others, and the way we address our feelings when efforts fall short of our expectations. I concede that it is much easier said than done, especially when dealing with depression and anxiety, but even baby steps can lead to huge progress.

One way that we can achieve this is by caring for others. The article, “Self-compassion Fosters Mental Health”, from Scientific American, explores the relationship between self-compassion, post-trauma recovery, and one’s ability to achieve their goals. It defines self-compassion as “treating yourself with the same kindness and care you’d treat a friend,” and explains how showing kindness to others is an effective way to boost this attribute in ourselves. 

According to a study on self-compassion from the University of California, Berkeley, the group of participants who were asked to offer support to another, on-average, rated themselves with higher self-compassion scores than the groups who were asked to recall fond memories or read about the suffering of others. One of the researchers explained these results, saying, “During tough times, people naturally tend to focus on themselves and find it difficult to support others… but actually, as many people intuitively discover, taking the opportunity to support other people can make you feel better about what you’re going through.” 

The article made another point that struck me as incredibly applicable to those who are susceptible to developing disordered eating patterns, especially within the dance world. Many dancers and people who turn towards restrictive diets, tend to be goal-oriented and driven, accepting nothing but the best. This is a broad generalization, however, it may ring true to many of you reading this article. If you are one of these folks, you may think that the only road to success is by gritting your teeth, powering through, and using self-criticism as motivation to achieve your goals. However, according to this article, this is simply not true. It states, “Those low in self-compassion think that unless they are hard on themselves, they will not amount to much—but research reveals that being kind to yourself does not lower your standards. With self-compassion, you reach just as high, but if you don’t reach your goals it’s okay because your sense of self-worth isn’t contingent on success.” 

With this in mind, I hope that all of you can make time this holiday season to prioritize your mental health and allow self-love to take hold. There is so much power in how we view ourselves—with the right mindset, our potential is limitless. 

Take care everyone, and remember that life is too short to skip the cookie.

Citation: 

Krakovsky, Marina. “Self-Compassion Fosters Mental Health.” Scientific American, Scientific American, 1 July 2012, 

www.scientificamerican.com/article/self-compassion-fosters-mental-health/.

About the Author: 

Hello hello! My name is Taylor Ferreira. I am a current student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo working towards a Bachelor’s of Science in Nutrition with the goal of becoming a Registered Dietitian. I am interested (for the moment) in working with eating disorder recovery patients or with new mothers as a Lactation Consultant. 

I have been interested in studying nutrition since my early high school education. I was a company ballet dancer for many years, and I was fascinated with how something as simple as eating could have such a profound effect on my performance, aesthetic, and mental health. I am excited for the opportunity to share some of the knowledge that has helped me to improve my relationship with food in hopes that it can do the same for you.

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