The Self-Compassion--Sustainability Connection (i.e., Take it Easy)

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Photo: Flickr/kerryvaughan

If "self-love" or "self-compassion" sounds sort of hokey, I don't blame you. The often hallow-sounding words can conjure up images of hippies and yoga instructors wearing flowing white gauzy garb. (This is not to disparage, I'm part-hippie and yoga instructor in disguise.)

But just as modern science is pointing to the health benefits of meditation, research is beginning to find something else both ancient and present-day yogins have known all along: self-compassion is a key ingredient in one's wellness tool kit. Practical application can lend to increased happiness and possibly even weight loss.A recent New York Times blog post covers the self-compassion study and research suggesting that,

...Giving ourselves a break and accepting our imperfections may be the first step toward better health. People who score high on tests of self-compassion have less depression and anxiety, and tend to be happier and more optimistic. Preliminary data suggest that self-compassion can even influence how much we eat and may help some people lose weight.

This is quite ground-breaking in a society like the United States where to berate oneself is the norm for not exercising and deprivation is synonymous with dieting.

Can We Have Our Doughnuts and Eat Them Too?
Sort of. A 2007 study from Wake Forest University looked at self-compassion's influence on eating habits. 84 female college students were told they were taking part in a food-tasting experiment, and at the study's start, were asked to eat doughnuts. One group was given a prior lesson in self-compassion, the other group who hadn't received the lesson, ended up engaging in "emotional" eating. The women who gave themselves permission to enjoy the sweets didn't overeat.

My Take-Away
Giving ourselves permission to be imperfect is one of the healthiest things we can do. It can relate to diet. Or maybe even help temper any green guilt we suffer from. Allowing and accepting our imperfections shouldn't be confused with self-indulgence, low standards or laziness but ultimately be about: what do I need to give myself to feel my best, be at my best, so I can maybe be of some help to those around me-- and maybe even the planet at large.

This weekend, I'm practicing a little self-compassion with The Unplug Challenge.

The Self-Compassion Starter Kit -- a resourceful website from Dr. Kristin Neff, an Associate Professor in Human Development and Culture at the University of Texas at Austin.

The Self-Compassion Diet by Jean Fain, a psychotherapist and teaching associate at Harvard Medical School.

The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion: Freeing Yourself from Destructive Thoughts and Emotions by Christopher K. Germer PhD

Buddhist nun and prolific author, Pema Chodron, offers great insight on what self-love means from the Tibetan Buddhist school of thought.

Self-Compassion on Planet Green:
Study: Thinking You're Fat Makes You Fat

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