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Blame. Binge. Shame. Repeat. Part 3: Self-nurture

This is the third part of a four-part series about what you need to know to understand, manage and overcome comfort eating. If you are not sure whether your overeating is comfort or ‘emotional’ eating, you may wish to read my introductory article Are you a comfort eater?

In part one of this four-part series I wrote about what the habit of overeating is, the real reasons why you might want to stop, and the self-critic behind binge eating. If you haven't read the first instalment, take a look at Blame. Binge. Shame. Repeat - part 1

In part two, I wrote about the part of you that feels and responds to the self-criticism; your inner child. I started to explore more deeply what causes a binge eater to eat in the first place. You’ll find that here:

Part 3 – Self-nurture

In this section of the series, I’ll talk about a part of you that needs to be learned, practised and developed, in order to manage the feelings of the ‘inner child’.

I'm calling this the ‘adult’ part of you. But you may have other words for this part, such as 'Nurturer', 'Higher self', or 'Inner guide'. This is the part of you that can rationalise, stand up for yourself, and respond to hurt or difficult feelings with understanding. This part of you has several skills that help with overcoming overeating.

Self-nurture

One thing that the adult part of us is good at, or needs to be good at, is self-nurturing.

Self-nurture is all about providing the thing that you really need, instead of self-criticism and junk food.

  • Having worked out that you’ve been self-critical, how could you replace that nasty comment with something kind? 
  • What about trying to understand the reasons that you feel or act the way you do?
  • See if you can name some qualities about one of your best friends, or someone that you really love. Qualities that you really admire about people. I imagine that's quite easy. 
  • Now, have a go at doing the same for yourself. What do you appreciate about yourself? What do you like about yourself?

Was that more difficult?

If you're a comfort eater, you're not necessarily used to feeling good about yourself. Being self-concerned is seen as selfish in our culture, and talking about yourself in an appreciative, good, positive light, is also presumed to be bragging. But that's so outdated! It’s also really not helpful for giving up comfort eating! This self-deprecating point of view, as we’ve seen, will only make you want to eat more. So, you really need to change that story.

Here are some ways you can try to do that:

  1. Think about a quality that you've appreciated about yourself every day. Go to bed thinking ‘What did I do well? What did I feel good about? What have I done that I really deserve respect for?'  
  2. Appreciation of any kind is often going to lead you to a more positive outlook.

It sounds like a cliché, but it actually really does work. If you list all the things that you appreciate at the end of the day, sooner or later, it's going to rub off on you, and you're going to start being an appreciative kind of person. Maybe you already are, so turn it back on yourself. Make sure that you're appreciating yourself. It always needs to come back to that with managing comfort eating.

Notice how easy these exercises are for you. Or how difficult. 

Self-confidence, self-esteem and self-respect are really self-acceptance. Everything that I’ve written about in this series goes into that.

Self-challenge

Self-confidence is the backbone of giving up overeating. So, at some point, you will need to start challenging your old pattern of thinking self-critically. You’ll need to challenge unhelpful behaviours and harmful beliefs, to transform them into ways of being understanding and loving towards yourself.

One place to start is to replace every 'I can't' with 'I won’t'.  This way you start to understand how you’ve been brainwashing yourself, and what your real motivations are.

We’ve had lots of examples of good challenges, or ways of thinking differently in this blog. Here’s another:

  • At a celebration, do you really need sugar to feel good? 
  • Isn’t that a bit of a contradiction? Shouldn’t you already be feeling good?
  • Does it even make you feel good? 
  • If you do feel you need it, what do you need it for? (Remembering not to criticise the answer!)
  • What really makes you feel good? 
  • What is it you really need?

Man drinking tea and cuddling cat

Self-soothing

Self-soothing is really what the comfort eater needs to learn. Learning to self-soothe will take time and practice.

There are a variety of ways to soothe yourself:

1. Self-soothing techniques

Meditation, mindfulness, and visualisation help you to get into a different state of mind. With the mania of wanting food, and with the feelings behind the food, this is often what's needed. 

It’s easy to find these kinds of guided techniques for free online. If you’re not sure where to start, a favourite of mine is Kristin Neff on self-compassion.

What these techniques do is they get you into a certain part of your brain that is the rational, reasonable, compassionate adult. It's literally a different part of your brain to the inner child part. It's the part of you that can look after the inner child, stand up to the inner critic and make good choices for your wellbeing. 

2. Understanding your feelings, and then finding ways to address what you need

This is something you may need professional help with. A lot of this will be really challenging for the emotional overeater. So, it's important to acknowledge that none of this can be done overnight. It takes time to learn how to trust your feelings, particularly if, as is often the case, some kind of trauma caused you to block them off in the first place. But with gentleness, it can be done.

Ultimately, stopping comfort eating is about gradually becoming more engaged in the moment and learning to stop punishing yourself. Gradually, bit by bit, catching the self-harm and replacing it with love. Naturally, this helps you to drop the obsession with food for an interest in your life. 

Summary questions and homework for your journal

  1. How can you create a nurturing voice to replace the critical voice? What would that part of you say to replace what the critic says?
  2. What 'I won't' reasons do you recognise?
  3. What soothing technique can you experiment with/use?

In the final part of this series, I will tie up some loose ends with other unmentioned aspects of coping with comfort eating.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Written by Shelley Treacher Anxiety, Binge Eating & Loneliness

I run groups for people who experience frustration with overeating. My programme helps people to overcome overeating or binge eating naturally, with peer support, and without giving junk food up, until you're ready.

Shelley Treacher MA. MBACP accred.… Read more

Written by Shelley Treacher Anxiety, Binge Eating & Loneliness

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