Bringing self-compassion into eating disorder recovery

Some of the most common feelings brought on by eating disorders are those of guilt and shame. If you have an eating disorder, this may be caused by self-critical thoughts about your appearance, eating habits, food choices, self-identity or about the impact the eating disorder has on your loved ones and life in general. If you are a parent or carer or friend, it may be about feelings of guilt and failure when trying to help your loved one to recover.

These feelings are unhelpful. They can hinder recovery and delay accessing care. No person causes an eating disorder, no more than people cause their asthma, cancer or depression.

The irony is that eating disorders are harsh critics. They not only cause negative feelings and distress, but also grow and thrive in self-criticism and insecurity. One of the most powerful antidotes to this is self-compassion. Self- compassion can help you keep going through eating disorder treatment to recovery and can support emotional wellbeing.


What is Self-Compassion?

Self-compassion is when you understand, accept and forgive yourself when you fail or get it wrong. Dr Kristin Neff ( describes three key elements to self-compassion.


1. Self-kindness instead of self-judgement

This means accepting the reality that no one gets it right or exactly the way they want, and so being gentle not angry with yourself when it doesn’t work out.


2. Common Humanity instead of isolation

Remembering that to not have things work as you wanted is a shared human experience - not just you alone.


3. Mindfulness instead of over-identification

This means keeping a balanced mindset when you have negative feelings so that you note them non judgementally but keep them in the larger perspective (e.g. overall wellbeing) and don’t get caught up in the moment of them.


How can I develop Self-compassion?

Self- compassion may not come easily when battling an eating disorder, but is something that can be grown, cultivated and nourished through regular habits. In addition to the information on the website above, these daily activities can help bring more self-compassion into your life:

  1. Think ‘what would I say to a good friend?’ when things go wrong

  2. Keep a journal to record and process experiences in a balanced way. You can also use it to try the ‘3 good things’ practice: identify 3 things that went well each evening before you go to bed, describe them in detail.

  3. Try out some mindfulness exercises

  4. Take care of your body – nourish, hydrate, bathe, groom


For further information, check out: