You ate a bowl of ice cream. The full fat kind. Maybe, you even ate two bowls. Please don’t punish yourself with cruel words. You are disgusting. You have no willpower. Please don’t drown yourself in shame, blame and regret. I can’t believe I did this. I’m the only one who can’t control herself around food. This is humiliating.
You slept in instead of going to the gym. Or you didn’t work out “hard enough.” Please don’t punish yourself by saying that you’re lazy. By comparing yourself. Melanie gets up at 5 a.m. every day and has an hour-long workout. Why can’t I? Why do I have to be like this? Please don’t punish yourself with a double workout the next day. Fine, you screwed up today. Just wait until tomorrow. You will do twice the cardio and take two classes.
Margarita Tartakovsky is an associate editor at PsychCentral.com, an award-winning mental health website, and the voice behind Weightless, a blog that helps women deal with body image issues and disordered eating. She also writes a monthly feature for Beliefnet.com, covering topics such as patience and procrastination.
Editor: Muhammad Talha
You overate. You said something stupid. You broke your diet. Again. Please don’t punish yourself by feeding your inner critic. By neglecting your needs. By not letting yourself have fun. By taking away the activities you really enjoy. By believing that you deserve to pay some price for your supposed sins, for your terrible crimes.
Please don’t make up false, painful stories. No one will love you. You’re only worthy if you lose weight. You’ve made too many mistakes and bad decisions. You are broken. And you are beyond repair.
Because this becomes a never-ending cycle. You do something you deem wrong. You bash yourself. You feel the pressure. You slip up, again. (Because you’re human. And because your expectations may be unrealistic and unhealthy in the first place.) You bash yourself even more and more with harsher words and bigger punishments.
Instead, pause. Remind yourself that these behaviors are information. Maybe you simply love ice cream, and it’s been a while since you’ve had some. And dark chocolate brownie is your favorite flavor. Or maybe you’re upset, and you tend to turn to food and overeat when you’re upset. Maybe it’s something you’d like to work on, because food isn’t the answer to all our needs. Maybe you don’t eat enough during the day, so you often overeat at night. Maybe you’re stressed and exhausted so, of course, your body has a hard time getting up (especially if you don’t enjoy going to the gym).
All of this is information. It is not a weapon to use against yourself. It is not a reason to tighten your whip. It is not a reason to declare yourself hopeless and undeserving and a failure or a loser. Rather, it is information that you can use to take compassionate care of yourself.
Naturally, if you’ve spent years punishing yourself, it’s become a habit you know all-too well. Which means that change is tricky and tough. And it takes time. But it also means that you can change. Because it is a habit. And we revise, update, reduce and relinquish habits all the time.
So give yourself the chance to learn self-compassion (it’s a skill). Give yourself the chance to try. And seek support if you need it. Because punishing yourself is not only ineffective. It’s also not the way to spend this beautiful life. And, whether you realize it or not, you deserve better.