Changing our behavior is hard work. And sometimes, despite our best efforts and intentions, it doesn’t lead to the results we want. Practicing self-compassion–accepting yourself “just as you are”–is an important addition to your weight-loss tool kit. Research even shows its significant role in helping us meeting our health goals (including shedding unwanted pounds).
Says Coach Kathleen, “Most of us don’t get kind and compassionate messages throughout the day.” Instead, we’re told what we can buy or do to make ourselves better. This helps strengthen the belief that we aren’t good enough or that we need to change to be more lovable. “It can feel uncomfortable or even like you’re a fraud if you try to love and be compassionate toward yourself,” she says.
If being hard on yourself helped change behavior, we’d recommend it. But research shows that it actually gets in the way of creating long-lasting healthy habits. So, since many of us didn’t learn self-compassion or self-love, it makes sense that we need to practice. Here are 15 ways from our coach team to help you get started:
- You aren’t alone. Remember, it’s normal to feel what you’re feeling–frustration, anger, sadness, hopelessness, confusion, all of the above. Reach out to friends and family to talk about what you’re going through. You’ll be surprised to hear the stories they share and how they help you feel more connected and supported.
- Ask, “What advice would I give my best friend?” What kind words of encouragement and comfort would you share? What next steps would you offer? We often talk to our friends in much kinder, more compassionate ways than we talk to ourselves.
- Scrap the “no excuses” mentality. Let’s face it, sometimes there are good reasons for not meeting your health goals. “Putting extra pressure on yourself actually makes change more difficult,” says Coach Cassie. “When you were younger and your mom nagged you to clean up your room, were you more excited to do it? Nope. Mentally beating yourself up doesn’t make behavior change any easier.”
- Be realistic about your personal challenges. Fact: biological reasons can make behavior change more difficult. You may be up against hormones, your brain may need rewiring to learn new patterns and the people around you may take some time getting used to the “new you.” This doesn’t mean your health goals aren’t worth pursuing. Go easy on yourself.
- Focus on solutions. Put your energy into what’s working, says Coach Eden. For example, rather than saying “This is hopeless, I can’t do this,” ask yourself, “What have I already accomplished and what do I feel capable of doing right now (or this week)?” Know that no matter what your answers are, it’s all okay.
- Recognize your feelings. Spend some time journaling, drawing (coloring books, anyone?) or painting about your feelings. Sometimes just making more space for your emotions can give your mind a break and help you feel more at ease.
- Find balance. “Over the years, I’ve seen clients feel a sense of accomplishment when they start to exercise and want to reward themselves–which they should!” says Coach Chloe. Unfortunately, the number of calories burned often gets exaggerated–and can result in stalled weight loss. A person burns roughly 100 calories every mile walked or run. And 2 miles (200 calories) is the equivalent of an ounce of cheese and a medium apple. Not a whole pizza pie.
- Celebrate you. Make a list of everything you like about yourself and why, says Coach Marcella. Sometimes we get caught up comparing ourselves to others and don’t realize how fabulous we really are. There’s only one YOU. Celebrate your beautiful uniqueness.
- Declutter. Clean and organize your house to let the air and energy flow more freely. Respecting your home by keeping it welcoming and tidy can allow more possibilities to enter your life because you’re consciously creating more space.
- Give yourself a break. Coach Eden recommends adopting a flexible mindset surrounding food choices because being super restrictive can backfire. For example, if you tell yourself “I can never eat cookies,” cookies naturally become more irresistible. Being overly rigid about your diet (or exercise) also makes it easier to feel like you’ve “fallen off the wagon.” Leaving some wiggle room (for some mindfully-enjoyed treats, for example) has been associated with greater long-term weight-loss success.
- Strength train. When you lose weight you lose fat AND muscle. Muscle mass helps you burn more calories and boosts your metabolism. Coach Chloe encourages strength training to help you maintain lean muscle mass while you lose weight.
- Don’t be afraid to use the L-word. It might sound corny, but try repeating, “I love you,” in the mirror several times a day. “You probably don’t naturally do this–and you may never have. “We’re often taught to love others, but not ourselves,” says Coach Marcella. “When we cultivate self-love, we’re more likely to shine light, love and compassion onto those around us.”
- A lapse is NOT a character flaw. When you experience a lapse (and we all do!), it doesn’t mean you lack willpower or “failed.” Giving in to a craving is more about biochemistry than anything else. Accept the slight detour and simply put yourself back on track. No biggie.
- Give yourself credit. Fitting in a few extra minutes of activity, staying hydrated, eating more veggies at dinner, keeping your cool when things get hectic at work are all worth a pat on the back. It’s important to praise yourself rather than focusing on the negative (which can lead to unhealthy coping strategies). Success is much more than a number on a scale or a clothing tag. You’re doing great!
- Express gratitude. Coach Marcella suggests writing positive post-its and leaving them around the house where you can see them daily to reinforce all that you already have. For example, “I’m grateful that my arms help me reach for things. It makes me feel flexible.” Or, “I’m grateful for strong legs and knees that help me garden and appreciate the flowers.” The more you see these words and repeat them to yourself, the more you embody self-compassion. This can also give you the extra encouragement boost you need whenever that critical voice in your head starts getting louder.
All of these ideas also apply to when you’re sticking to your goals, doing “everything right” and still not getting the results you want. Give some (or all) of them a try to see what works best for you. Remember, trying something new or different takes courage. And being kind, compassionate and loving towards yourself helps fuel your willingness to keep doing it.
For even more ways to cultivate self-care and compassion, check out Dr. Kristin Neff’s website. She’s done a lot of research on the benefits of being nice to yourself (and how to get better at it).
Yes Health is a low-cost, weight loss and diabetes-prevention program committed to helping everyone live healthier, happier lives.