Self-Compassion: A Coping Skill for Eating Disorder Recovery 

While many people find it easy to treat others with compassion, it can be much more challenging to turn this compassion inwards. Developed by Dr. Kristin Neff, self-compassion is the practice of supporting oneself kindly and gently when experiencing difficulties.4 While responding to personal suffering with harsh criticism is often second nature, self-compassion takes a loving, patient approach. There are three main elements of self-compassion: 

  • Self-kindness – treating ourselves with love and warmth when we struggle 
  • Common humanity – remembering that all humans suffer and are imperfect 
  • Mindfulness – observing our difficult emotions without judgment 

Practicing self-compassion can be a powerful tool for eating disorder recovery. It has been shown to improve self-esteem, body image, distress tolerance, and resilience.3 Additionally, it often empowers individuals to navigate and overcome their inner critic.1 Self-compassion can help individuals with eating disorders to cope with suffering adaptively rather than turning to disordered behaviors. 

There are several ways to practice self-compassion, many of which can be incorporated into day-to-day life:4 

  • Imagine a close friend or loved one is in the same situation as you. Think about what you would say to them, then speak to yourself as you would speak to that friend. 
  • Explore self-compassion through writing. Write a letter to yourself offering love and compassion for a difficulty you are experiencing. 
  • Practice supportive touch, such as putting a hand on your heart or crossing your arms around your body. 

More activities, including guided meditation practices, can be found on Dr. Neff’s website at https://self-compassion.org/category/exercises/#exercises. 

1.Gleissner, G. (2016). Self-compassion in eating disorder recovery. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/bottoms/201609/self-compassion-in-eating-disorder-recovery 

2.Neff, K. D. (2023). Self-compassion: Theory, method, research, and intervention. Annual Review of Psychology, 74(1), 193–218. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-psych-032420-031047 

3.Nieder, S. (2022). Practicing self-compassion in eating disorder recovery. ACUTE Center for Eating Disorders and Severe Malnutrition. https://www.acute.org/blog/practicing-self-compassion-eating-disorder-recovery 

4.Self-Compassion. (n.d.). https://self-compassion.org/ 

By Katherine Matthes  

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