Monday, March 28, 2011

The Self Compassion Diet-An interview with Jean Fain

Jean Fain, is a licensed psychotherapist and a teaching associate in psychiatry at Cambridge Health Alliance, a teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School. She has dedicated her work to helping others keep physically, emotionally and mentally fit. In her book The Self-Compassion Diet, Fain synthesizes the cutting-edge research and current psychological theory, as well as sharing guided meditations and visualizations to increase self-compassion for greater health.
“Most dieters try to ‘kill cravings’ and break habits with self-discipline,” Fain says, “but only self-kindness can help quiet the shame that traditional diets instill and establish a harmonious relationship with food.”
We interviewed her for Guiltless, and she shared some of her top suggestions for increasing self-compassion in YOUR lif!

-What is your expertise?
I'm a Harvard Medical School-affiliated psychotherapist specializing in eating issues.

-What are the basic principles of the self-compassion diet?
When you treat yourself like a friend or a loved one -- with self-compassion --- you're more apt to eat when you're hungry and stop when you're full; rest when you're tired and move when you feel energized. Do that, and you'll lose weight naturally.
What prompted you to write this book?
My clients. They're really hard on herself. They feed themselves a steady diet of self-criticism and expect that'll somehow inspire them to lose weight once and for all. But they've got it backward: self-criticism -- calling yourself "fat," "disgusting" and other mean, nasty names -- that's a recipe for emotional overeating and weight gain. Self-compassion, on the other hand, is the missing ingredient in every diet and a simple recipe for decreasing emotional eating and losing weight.

-Why is self compassion necessary for permanent weightloss/health?
A steady diet of self-compassion helps you feel calmer, less reactive and better able to take care of yourself.

-Can you lose weight in a way that maintains self-care and respect?
That's exactly what I prescribe: self-care and -respect. Eating without care, treating yourself disrespectfully, that's a set up for overeating and gaining weight.

-What is one thing we can all do to foster a more positive relationship with our bodies and food?
Treat yourself like a friend. Rather than calling yourself "fat" or "disgusting," ask yourself: "How ARE you?" "What do you need?" "How can you help??"

Fain’s asserts that kindness, not discipline, is the missing ingredient in every diet and most other weight-loss plans is supported by a growing body of scientific evidence. Research psychologists have found that, for veteran dieters, a little self-compassion goes a long way toward curbing the self-critical thoughts and emotional distress that fuel overeating. For example:

  • A landmark 2007 Wake Forest study found that subjects who cultivated self-compassion did not indulge in emotional overeating. In contrast, rigid dieters with their characteristic critical mindset, reflexively overindulged despite their best intentions. This reflex to reach for food in the face of self-criticism helps explain why yo-yo dieters end up with more weight gain than loss.

  • A group of University of Wisconsin neuroscientists conducted MRI brain-imaging studies of Buddhist monks meditating on loving-kindness. Compassion, it turns out, is literally mind-altering! Not only does cultivating an attitude of loving-kindness stimulate the parts of the brain associated with empathy and maternal love (the insula and the temporal parietal junction) in men and women, it promises to dampen activity in the brain areas associated with depression and anxiety.
  • Indeed, while most researchers have measured the difference self-compassion makes in a single day, Kristin Neff, the University of Texas professor found that ongoing self-compassion training, worked like antidepressants without the side effects over the duration of the study.

If you are looking for other ways to increase self-compassion, Fain recommends the following techniques and meditations:

1. Metta or Loving-Kindness Meditation

Although books have been written on this traditional Eastern meditation, it can be boiled down to the following phrases: “May I be safe. May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I live with ease.” The meditation starts with “I” phrases; continues with “you”; then finishes with “we” — extending loving-kindness to others only after first bestowing it upon yourself. Note: Feel free to customize Metta to your liking. The idea is to compose short, meaningful statements that convey the universal wish for happiness and freedom from suffering. Easy to remember, Metta is a ready response to the fear and self-loathing that can and so often does derail diets.

2. Compassionate Advisor

Here’s a powerful guided visualization based on the assumption that a wise, compassionate advisor lives within us all. By imagining a guide (and it can be anyone who embodies compassion—Mother Teresa, Gandhi, a sister, maybe a pet) and then focusing on his/her loving qualities, subjects have gained new perspective, greater self-acceptance and a much-needed sense of relief.

3. A Compassionate Note to Self

Getting deep concerns down on paper is not only a great way to ease emotional distress, it’s a proven method for bolstering a positive outlook. This practice calls for 15 to 20 minutes of uninterrupted writing per day in which you unload personal angst about a current predicament, and follow it with comforting words from an imagined pen pal.

4. Compassionate Glasses

This practice teaches practitioners how to view the body with an objective, forgiving and even appreciative eye—imperfections and all. It calls for trying on two pairs of imaginary glasses—one with distorted lenses and one more compassionate pair. The distorted pair with its hyper-critical view is all too familiar, but the contrast between the two is notable. The loving lens provides a more balanced, healthier perspective as well as a greater sense of calm and well-being.

Thank you Jean for sharing all this valuable information!

Do you think self-compassion is the secret to weight maintenence and overall health?

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