“You knew you were stuffed after dinner. Why did you eat that ice cream too?”
“Oh, so you skipped out on kettlebell swings at the end of your workout today? Well, guess today’s session doesn’t count.”
“Really? Chocolate covered pretzels is hardly the answer to finishing this project you’re so stressed about.”
No, it’s not an overbearing mom or mean roommate. It’s me. It’s the familiar sounds of the voice inside my own head.
We’re often our own worst critics. No matter what we do, no matter how others praise us, no matter what successes we have in life… all of that doesn’t matter at the end of the day when we’re left by ourselves. We’re never good enough, smart enough, thin enough, ambitious enough. Whatever it is, we’re never enough.
When did this get to be the social norm? When did it become okay to talk kindly to and love everyone else, but ourselves?
Unlike shame, guilt comes from within. It’s easy to brush off negative comments from someone we don’t like and dismiss them as idiots, but it’s so much harder to learn to battle our inner demons. Especially in regards to food and exercise.
Everyone’s talking about their latest diet, new workout regime, or how they just need to lose that last five pounds. So we criticize ourselves when we think we “slip-up.” Suddenly, eating a doughnut at a coffee shop with friends becomes a source of anxiety. We either think we need to burn up those calories so that we can get back on our healthy bandwagon, or might as well down a can of pop and bag of chips because we’re just no good anymore.
Or, on the other hand, missing a planned snack in anorexia recovery means we’ll never get better. We might as well just give up. Or overeating at dinner means we’re going to blow up like a balloon. We’re just never going to be a “normal” eater.
Even if no one else comments on our choices, even if everyone else seems to be enjoying themselves, even if someone tells us we’re fantastic human beings, we train ourselves to believe that one perceived mistake means we’re not good enough anymore.
The cure is self-compassion. But how do you reach a level where you can accept your mistakes and not judge yourself for them?
1. Stop restricting.
When we restrain ourselves from enjoying life–whether that means allowing ourselves to go out on a Friday night or having a cup of ice cream as an afternoon snack–we simply increase our innate desire to do those things. We unconsciously obsess about it, contributing to that self-hating talk. Research shows restriction actually contributes to guilt.
Breathe. And allow yourself to have fun. And no, enjoying yourself is not a “slip-up” or mistake. It’s freedom.
2. Don’t buy into “perfect” advice.
I know, I know. I’m giving advice right now. But what I mean is don’t get caught up in what someone says is “right” or “wrong.”
After months reading countless books and blog posts about intuitive eating, I was overanalyzing everything. I’d feel stuffed after dinner, and think I was a horrible person. Wasn’t I supposed to stop and evaluate my “hunger level” after every bite? Why did I just scarf it all down? And why did I go back for seconds and dessert?
Maybe because I was hungry, either physically or emotionally. There is no universal stopping point. Sometimes, we going to eat less. Sometimes, we’re going to eat more. Guess what? It’s all part of life. Stressing about rules is what feeds our inner critic and leaves us deprived.
3. Develop a mantra.
I’ll admit, I used to laugh at those pictures on Pinterest that are endless phrases of “I am loved. I am courageous. I am…” etc. But, now, reminding myself at the end of the day that “I am strong” is enough to make me smile a little bit.
Feel guilty after a perceived “over-eating”? Start telling yourself that you are worth it. You needed that nourishment to continue doing awesome things, toget an A on that school paper, to complete those spreadsheets for work. To simply exist.
Already feeling that you’ll be missing a day, or week, or month of exercise? Start reminding yourself that you are strong. You don’t need to follow the latest HIIT workout or Crossfit WOD to prove your self-worth. Strength is so much more than what’s on the outside. Hey, taking time off to let your body recharge is often a good thing!
Whatever that voice is criticizing you for, develop a simple mantra you can tell yourself. Repeat it: at night, in the morning, whenever you feel down on yourself. You’d be surprised.
I don’t have all the answers, as self-compassion is something I’m trying to teach myself. But it helps to remember that we’re all human. We can’t control everything (no matter how much I wish for it). We aren’t going to fly through life with no worries. But those trials are what make us stronger.
Tell that inner critic to shut up.
It’s your turn to speak.
How do you practice self-compassion?
Have any mantras you repeat to yourself?
What does your inner critic criticize the most about you? How do you deal?