Build Compassion to Recover from Disordered Eating, RDN Advice

The path to recovery from disordered eating is fraught with challenges. It can be an isolating experience, fraught with fear, and at times, it may seem insurmountable. This struggle isn’t limited to individuals battling eating disorders; caregivers and loved ones navigating this terrain face their own set of hurdles. Contrary to the Hollywood portrayal of instant transformation and euphoric moments, the journey toward genuine body acceptance is a complex endeavor.

Many who grapple with eating disorders have spent a lifetime convincing themselves that they fall short of some unattainable ideal. A lifetime of silencing hunger signals or disregarding their body’s cues for satisfaction. It’s essential to recognize that cultivating a healthy sense of body acceptance is a lifelong journey.

The prospect of a lifetime commitment may appear daunting at first glance. The effort is undeniably worthwhile. So, the question arises: How do we build compassion and shed shame during our recovery from disordered eating?


1. Define Shame: Begin by understanding the concept of shame. Unlike guilt, shame is not about doing wrong; it’s about feeling inherently bad or unworthy of love and acceptance. Dr. Brené Brown, renowned for her work on vulnerability and shame, describes shame as the belief that we don’t belong because we don’t deserve it. Recognizing the nature of shame is crucial, as it’s a pervasive and destructive force, especially in the context of disordered eating.


2. Break the Cycle:

  • Identify Your Shame Triggers: Self-criticism and judgment often act as potent triggers for shame. Train yourself to recognize that critical inner voice as soon as it surfaces.
  • Share Your Experience: Eating disorders thrive in silence, and shame often compels individuals to suffer in isolation. It’s imperative to break this silence by seeking support from a trusted therapist, counselor, or support group. You are not alone, as statistics indicate that at least 30 million people in the United States grapple with eating disorders.


3. Embrace Self-Compassion: Self-compassion serves as a cornerstone of healing and serves as a potent counterforce to shame. It entails treating yourself with the same kindness and empathy that you extend to others. Self-compassion encompasses self-kindness, recognition of common humanity, and mindfulness.

  • Self-Kindness: Practice radical self-acceptance, embracing both your flaws and your beauty. Confront destructive thoughts and behaviors, altering them with self-talk akin to how you would address your dearest friend.
  • Common Humanity: Acknowledge that imperfection is universal, and everyone encounters moments of failure. Reach out for help and connect with others who share similar struggles through support groups or trusted friends.
  • Mindfulness: Challenge the triggers that have sustained your sense of shame over the years. Consider the Cherokee story that speaks of two wolves within us—one representing darkness and despair, the other embodying hope and light. Which one will you feed? After years of nourishing shame, fostering mindfulness and awareness is necessary to cease its perpetuation.


4. Reconnect with Your Body: Rediscover your body by paying attention to its sensations. Feel how your calves stretch. Squeeze someone’s hand. Pay attention to the temperature, the wind, and how they feel on your skin. Reconnecting with these basic bodily sensations is the initial step in healing a fractured relationship with your own body.


5. Cultivate Gratitude: Building self-esteem rooted in a positive body image is a gradual process filled with twists and turns. A daily practice of gratitude can foster this connection between the mind and body. Take time to document your daily blessings, whether it’s the ability to type with your fingers or the joy of hearing your favorite music. Gratitude begets more gratitude, nurturing the path to body acceptance.


The journey to recovering from disordered eating and achieving lasting body acceptance is neither swift nor straightforward. But you’re worth it.

Wayne Dyer says, “Remind yourself you cannot fail at being yourself.”