When you’re eating away your emotions and you start feeling the heaviness of shame, the last thing you probably want to do is connect to your self-compassion. The last thing you probably want to do is be kinder to yourself or comfort yourself.

When I’d stuff my feelings with food, I felt confused, out of control, embarrassed and alone. And it’s funny that it’s in those very moments that I needed to crank up the self-compassion — but it seemed so hard. And, honestly, it didn’t even cross my mind.

But it’s important for all of us, especially in those times of trouble and distress, to lend a hand — to ourselves.

In her book End Emotional Eatingclinical psychologist Jennifer L. Taitz, Psy.D, cites Kristin Neff’s definition of self-compassion. (If you remember, a while ago, I talked about Neff’s work here.) According to Neff, self-compassion is:

being open to and moved by one’s own suffering, experiencing feelings of caring and kindness toward oneself, taking an understanding, nonjudgemental attitude toward one’s inadequacies and failures, and recognizing that one’s experience is part of the common human experience.

In other words, self-compassion, writes Taitz, includes: “practicing self-kindness and understanding; seeing your experience as part of being human; and noticing your thoughts and feelings mindfully.”

That’s the interesting thing. When we eat emotionally, we usually feel incredibly alone. But we aren’t. So many of us have been there, so many of us can understand the hurt and confused feelings, the suffering in silence — and so many of us have reached a healthier place.

Self-compassion has many benefits. According to Taitz, it helps us manage our emotions and urges to eat emotionally. In fact, she writes that people who are more self-compassionate actually ruminate less and enjoy more positive emotions. Self-compassion also helps us feel less overwhelmed (another good thing since overwhelm can trigger emotional eating).

But how do you access this self-compassion when it’s toughest to find?

Taitz includes a very valuable exercise in her book called “creating a compassionate coach.”

  • Think of a compassionate person, someone who genuinely embodies kindness, and focus on their image. This might be anyone from your grandma to a mentor to a friend to someone you don’t even know.
  • Focus on some of their details, including their appearance, voice and posture.
  • “How do you feel as you sit with this person in your mind?”
  • From this person’s perspective, write yourself a supportive letter. Taitz says that you can use a specific situation, such as eating emotionally or feeling anxious. Think of what the person would say to you. After you’re done, read your letter out loud using a compassionate tone.
  • The next time you’re struggling, picture this person and treat yourself the way this individual would. For instance, you might say something you think they’d say or reread your letter.
  • Be sure to really lean in to the compassion. (I promise, you deserve to.)
  • Pay attention to whether self-critical thoughts arise. If they do, Taitz says to “use them as an opportunity to return to compassion.”

What’s the hardest thing about connecting to your self-compassion? What’s helped you become more compassionate toward yourself?