Importance of Self Love during Eating Disorder Recovery


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by: Darlene Y. Graham, MA, LMHC

Dr. Kristen Neff, a leading expert in the field of self-compassion defines it as follows:

“Self-compassion is extending compassion to one’s self in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure, or general suffering.”

In our self-compassion groups at Selah House, I use this definition to invite clients to learn how to give themselves grace.  Often a foreign concept to our clients, the group teaches three key guiding principles associated with self-compassion.

Three Guiding Principles of Self-Compassion

  1. Self-compassion is a necessary part of recovery. Eating disorders common yet veiled goal for clients is self-destruction in the form of self-criticism and its closely related relatives: self-rejection, self-judgment, perfectionism, and comparison.  To combat this barrage of self-deprecating thoughts, one must begin to incorporate the opposite: self-compassion, self-acceptance, and self-support. Doing so is a direct assault against the eating disorder’s frequent refrains of “You’re not good enough.  You don’t matter. No one loves you.”
  2. Self-compassion must be intentional. Without intent or purpose, self-compassion doesn’t just happen.  It doesn’t just fall out of the sky.  One continuously chooses it as an eating disorder, and negative thoughts can be relentless, and will not change on their own. Cultivating a mindset towards self-compassion involves clients bringing or creating self-compassion quotes for each group.  They are also invited to share self-compassion reports – ways in which they were intentionally self-kind or self-supportive over the previous week.
  3. Self-compassion must be practiced daily in some way, shape or form. It can be as simple as polishing your nails, setting some needed boundaries by saying “No,” or repeating positive affirmations to one’s self.

How do you practice self-compassion and self-care?

  • Pay attention to your feelings. Noticing your feelings and needs is essential to self-care. Do you need some alone time or time with friends and family? Do you need to get outside or rest? Respect your needs at the moment and be aware of your feelings throughout the day.
  • Clear your mind. Taking time to clear your mind each day can be rejuvenating. Take a deep breath and focus on yourself, it is part of being kind to yourself.
  • Take an opportunity. Try something new each day – a new hobby read a new book, or visit a new place for a hike. It doesn’t matter what you try, just take the opportunity.
  • Choose an alternate. Sometimes practicing self-care means you honor your limits and change plans. Permit yourself to choose to do something else if it makes you feel comfortable.  Remember, your well-being is what is important.
  • Help others. Volunteering can serve as a healthy distraction from negative thoughts and feelings. The emotional gratification of helping others can help to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.
  • Take a social media break. Limiting social media limits comparing ourselves to others and their lives. Giving yourself a separation from the virtual world will remind you what you love about your life.
  • Surround yourself with positive people. Self-care involves surrounding yourself with people who embrace you for who you are and avoiding those who make you feel uncomfortable.
  • Write positive messages. Eating disorders often make those suffering engage in negative self-talk. Write positive, meaningful messages to yourself to build yourself up and reduce your stress.
  • Remember what your body can do. Your body is powerful and can do so much. It helps you to walk, laugh, love, smile, hug, and more. Appreciate it for all the beautiful things it does for you.

At Selah House, we use an activity known as “The ABCs of Self-Compassion,” which invites clients to list all the ways to demonstrate self-kindness starting with every letter of the alphabet.  Afterwards, clients see firsthand the vast possibilities for being kind, giving, caring and supportive of one’s self.  Clients repeat these principles at each group, and we hope clients discharge from treatment with these tenets ingrained into their minds and active within their lives.

Self-compassion and self-care nurture your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health. Regularly providing compassion to yourself can decrease physical and emotional health symptoms. It is a vital part of recovery to recognize and devote time to take care of yourself.


“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  Matthew 11:28-30

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