The Be Nice to Yourself Diet

Psychotherapist Jean Fain wants you to lose weight with loving kindness

Today we're talking with Jean Fain, a psychotherapist and author of The Self-Compassion Diet: A Step-By-Step Program to Lose Weight with Loving Kindness. Of course, you know we never say the D-word round these parts, so don't let that book title fool you. In fact, new research shows that women who engage in "fat talk" are more likely to have internalized an unhealthy ultra-thin body ideal (regardless of their actual waist size), yet they believe that fat talk actually makes them feel better about their bodies. In other words, we think being mean to ourselves will make us feel better. Jean is here to explain why that doesn't make any sense.

Q: The Self-Compassion Diet isn't really a diet, right? 

A: Right. Diets revolve around self-discipline and deprivation. Rather than counting calories, carbs or points, the Self-Compassion Diet shows you how to lose weight and gain health and happiness by treating yourself with love and kindness.

Q: Which we could all use more of! Why are we so often lacking in compassion for our bodies? 

A: Dieters are really hard on themselves. They feed themselves a steady diet of self-criticism and expect that will somehow inspire them to lose weight once and for all. But they've got it backwards! Self-criticism is a recipe for emotional over-eating and weight gain. Self-compassion, on the other hand, is a simple recipe for decreasing emotional eating.

Q: Last week I blogged about new research that being unhappy with your body correlates with being overweight. What's your take?

A: I wholeheartedly agree! The American way is self-criticism, not self-compassion. American dieters try to force themselves to do more, better, faster, all to be thinner. Which usually means focusing on what they don't like about themselves and hoping their deep dislikes will motivate them. But this backfires big time and inspires frustration and disappointment. Rather than tolerate those emotions, dieters often comfort themselves with food. While this works better than Valium momentarily, it leads to a vicious cycle of under-eating, over-indulging and self-loathing.

Q: What role does our cultural obsession with thinness play into all of this?

A: Our cultural obsession with thinness is a big part of the problem and challenging cultural ideals is an essential part of the solution. But this is easier said than done -- especially when there's so much money to be made when consumers aspire to the beauty standards du jour.

Q: Does that mean setting more realistic expectations of how much weight we should lose?

A: I encourage clients to take a good, hard look at their expectations. My job isn't to point out the error in their thinking but to help them open their eyes. Most clients come to my couch because focusing on weight loss has resulted in weight gain and often a diagnosable eating issue. Rather than insisting clients stop dieting immediately, I suggest they start practicing self-compassion -- when they're ready. 

When you treat yourself with self-compassion, which means treating yourself like a friend, you're more apt to eat when you're hungry, stop when you're full and move when you feel energized. When you do that, you lose weight naturally.

Q: So what's one way we can all practice a little self-compassion today? 

A: My favorite is called the Loving-Kindness Meditation. For 10 to 15 minutes per day, repeat these four phrases to yourself: May I be safe. May I be healthy. May I be happy. May I live in ease. You can do this sitting in silence or while walking around the neighborhood. You'll feel calmer and less likely to indulge in emotional overeating.


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