The Role of Self-Compassion in Intuitive Eating - Part 1

The Role of Self-Compassion in Intuitive Eating - Part 1

Published on Wednesday, August 23, 2023 by Brooke Orr

Fostering Self-Compassion and Overcoming Shame: The Crucial Role in Embracing Intuitive Eating

One of the most important lessons I have learned, personally and professionally, is that neither guilt nor shame are effective motivators for long-term change. 

Many use the terms guilt and shame interchangeably, but the motivations behind them are different, and both can hinder the Intuitive Eating Process. Shame occurs when you believe OTHERS have a negative view of your behavior. This feeling often leads to isolation and may be most damaging for people who are especially sensitive to how others see them (e.g., people pleasers or low self-esteem). Self-compassion snuffs out shame- making room for Intuitive Eating, which is an act of self-compassion in and of itself. 

At its core, Intuitive Eating is about honoring and respecting one’s body through attunement and curiosity- NEVER judgment. Consider the following scenario:

T.J. has grown up in a household, health system, and culture where their body size has been blamed for their problems. Their family has a strong history of obesity and has been labeled overweight or obese since childhood (based on growth charts and BMI). Their pediatrician always addressed size at their annual visits with comments such as “You can grow into your weight if you just stop gaining and stay the same during puberty, or see a nutritionist to learn about red light yellow light green light foods- you probably just eat too many red light foods''. 

TJ’s parents have always experienced shame for their weight and food choices and, therefore, try to “help” TJ by putting the family on “healthy” eating plans, diets, etc. TJ tries to follow the food rules imposed on them, but even when they do everything right, their body size stays the same, and people assume they are eating the wrong things anyway. TJ stops trusting their own body and feels ashamed of how they show up in the world. The shame TJ experiences is a barrier to becoming an intuitive eater. It cultivates distrust of their body, teaches that outside “experts” know what their body needs more than TJ, and breeds body disrespect.  

What would it look like to flip the script and respond to the above-lived experience with self-compassion? 

Enter Intuitive Eating Principle 1-Reject the Diet Mentality and Principle 2- Respect Your Body. Diet Mentality is a belief that someone else knows what or how much your body needs to eat, and if you follow their advice, you can achieve lasting weight loss and health. Many influencers and medical professionals promote this belief. Yet, a growing number of health and wellness providers are turning their back on this practice due to weak evidence of lasting results and are moving towards Intuitive Eating- an evidenced-based concept with research supporting its effectiveness while debunking the diet mentality through countless research studies.

Reject diet mentality by turning your back on trending diets, influencers who have seen the light, social media posts with before and after photos, or anything else that tries to convince you there's a way to achieve lasting weight loss. Even with bariatric surgery, many studies show weight regain post-surgery– with one 5-year retrospective study showing regain within 24 months after surgery in approximately 50% of patients and another 10-year retrospective study showing weight regain in 41% of patients.   

An important part of practicing self-compassion in Intuitive Eating is to replace the diet mentality with Principle 8 of Intuitive Eating - Respect Your Body. As Tribole and Resch emphasize, this principle is about embracing your unique genetic makeup. Much like a puzzle piece, your body has a unique shape that fits perfectly with the grand design. Just as forcing a mismatched piece disrupts the picture, expecting a different body size challenges the harmony. Nurture self-respect to amplify your sense of well-being. Combat the diet mindset by adopting a realistic and compassionate approach to your body’s form. And always keep in mind, every body deserves honor. 

There are many ways to show body respect, and working with a counselor or Intuitive Eating Dietitian may be helpful. In the meantime, start to note people you respect or admire and if they exist in a spectrum of sizes- does size define them? Also, consider the positive things your body does for you. Finally, fill your reading lists and social media feeds with things that support rejecting the diet mentality and body respect! 

  1. Batcho, K. (2017). Why shaming doesn’t work. Psychology Today.  
  2. Tribole, E. (2019, April 17). Warning: Dieting increases your risk of gaining more weight (an update). Intuitive Eating.  
  3. Magro , D., Geloneze, B., Delfini, R., Pareja, B., Callejas, F., & Pareja, J. (2008). Long-term weight regain after Gastric Bypass: A 5-year prospective study. Obesity surgery.  
  4. Monaco-Ferreira, D. V., & Leandro-Merhi, V. A. (2017). Weight Regain 10 Years After Roux-en-Y Gastric Bypass. Obesity surgery, 27(5), 1137–1144.
  5. Tribole, E., & Resch, E. (2019, December 19). 10 principles of intuitive eating. Intuitive Eating.

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