I’ve discussed in recent emails and podcasts the importance of recognizing how shame and guilt can affect your eating behaviors and can exacerbate binge eating, compulsive overeating, food addiction and emotional eating.  This is a very difficult subject and one most of us don’t want to think about.  But it is important topic to understand. 
When we shame ourselves and when we set unrealistically high expectations and then feel guilty or shame ourselves for not meeting them, we can find ourselves stuck in a vicious cycle that often includes using food in unhealthy ways.  Brene’ Brown says: “Shame is far more likely to cause destructive behaviors than it is to cure them.” Self compassion is the antidote to shame.


Challenge yourself to do at least one self-compassionate action each day for 7 days. Examples might include, giving yourself reassurance, doing some deep breathing, practicing positive self-talk, giving yourself a hug. Keep a record each day of the self-compassionate actions you’ve taken and also how being self-compassionate feels.


Hi everyone it’s Dr. Carolyn here. Today we’re talking about or answering the question can I ever gain control and heal my food and body image issues. Important topic so stay tune.

I’ve been discussing in recent podcasts the importance of recognizing how shame and guilt can affect your eating behaviors and can make binge-eating to addiction and emotionally they much worse. And I know this is a difficult subject and nobody wants to talk about shame or guilt. They’re the stepchildren of the emotional family. But it is an important topic to understand. So I want to finish off this series by reminding you of a few top things to remember. First of all, we’re all harder on ourselves and the belief that it will make us do better. Stop bingeing, stop obsessing about food, losing weight. If we can just, you know, keep on ourselves, keep being hard on ourselves, then things will change. So, but just ask yourself, how is that working? Because we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you can’t hate yourself, then you can’t hate yourself healthy.

Really, we don’t take care of people or things that we hate. So developing a sense of neutrality towards your body, towards your eating behaviors can help you [inaudible] feel less hateful and therefore more willing to do the things that you need to do. To take care of yourself. Secondly, there’s a big difference between shame and guilt, and I know you’ve probably heard this from other people who’ve talked extensively about this. Guilt is saying, I did a bad thing and shame is saying I’m a bad person. So guilt is a normal feeling and it can happen when we do something we shouldn’t have done or we think we’ve done something wrong or we didn’t do something that we should have done [inaudible]. But guilt is a really powerful emotion that can also help to motivate us to make amends and to make different choices in the future. So guilt does have some, or potentially some beneficial purpose, but there are two types of guilt.

The one type is healthy guilt, and that’s the one that can make you reflect on what you did or didn’t do, that you should have done or shouldn’t have done, and it can motivate you to make changes in the future. However, unhealthy guilt is based on unrealistically high expectations that we have of ourselves. And when we have unhealthy guilt, it really serves no purpose other than again, to beat yourself up, make yourself feel miserable. And sometimes excessive guilt can be a sign of depression or post traumatic stress disorder. So that’s important to to hear. If you continue to struggle with feelings of guilt and worthlessness and hopelessness, then you might want to talk to your doctor about whether that is a sign of depression or post traumatic stress disorder. On the other hand, shame comes when we measure ourselves against our values or moral standards and we come up short.

Now shame and guilt often go hand in hand, which is why they’re so often confused. So for example, when we injure someone, we often feel bad about having done something to them that’s guilt. At the same time, we feel bad about ourselves and that shame and in terms of eating, we often feel bad about having a binge that’s guilt. But then after we’ve been [inaudible], we begin to feel worthless. And that is shame. So shame can, can also be related to depression, anxiety and trauma and self blame and shame may have helped you survive a traumatic situation. So sometimes holding onto yelled as a way to honor someone’s memory, someone you’ve lost. And it can also give you a sense of control. You know, this thing happened because I did something wrong, is easier than thinking that it was just a random event that you have no control over.

So those, those, those are important distinctions between guilt and shame. Now the third thing I want to talk about is just that being nice to yourself, particularly during a personal setback or a stressful experience is known as self-compassion. I’ve shared with you in the previous broadcasts over the last few weeks, uh, about something that happened in my own life that caused me to feel a great deal of shame and guilt and how I had to really, you know, sit back and practice self-compassion towards myself, be kind towards myself. And as I’ve said before, the most important person to have compassion port is for yourself. And it’s often true that if we can’t have compassion for ourselves, it’s unlikely that we’re going to be able to have compassion for other people too. And then finally, my favorite saying, which is something I guess it’s not my saying, it’s the Buddhist who say pain is part of the human condition.

This means that none of us is perfect and all of us deserve compassion and understanding and that that compassion and understanding should not be dependent upon you being perfect. So you don’t have to be a perfect person to deserve compassion and understanding. You only have to be human. And that means if you’re human, that you also have to accept that you will make mistakes because there’s no human who doesn’t make a mistake at some point in their lives. So at this point you may be thinking, well, what does all this have to do with me? And how can it help me gain control and heal my food and body image issues while when we shame ourselves and when we set those unrealistic high expectations and then feel guilty or shame ourselves for not meeting them or when we do body shaming, we can find ourselves stuck in a vicious cycle that often includes using food and unhealthy ways.

Bernay Brown has said that shame is far more likely to cause destructive behaviors than it is to cure them and what dr Carolyn says is to heal food and body image issues, we have to recognize the role that shame and guilt play in our binge eating, compostable reading, emotional eating, and food addiction. I just want to share a story from one of my recent patients. Her name is Joanie and Joanie has struggled most of her life with binge eating as a child. Her parents sent her to weight Watchers when she was only nine years old and then in school she was teased about her weight and went from one diet to another, the same old cycle, losing weight and then regaining it and often regaining more than she had lost. That’s called the diet treadmill. Recently she went to visit her parents with her young son.

Now she was a little anxious about the visit and sure enough while she was there, her mother started commenting about what she was eating, how much she was eating, and also about her weight. Now, Joanie felt really ashamed that she was still dealing with this problem after all this time, after all, she was a successful career woman. She was, you know, good mother in a meaningful marriage, et cetera. But this was a problem that continued to play Kerr. And while there she binged in secret almost every night and this also increased her feelings of shame on the way home, she stopped at McDonald’s and binged in the car and her young son began to cry and due to her own anxiety and guilt, she yelled at him. Of course, this only increased her guilt and the shame she had that. Now I’m a bad mother too, so she felt hopeless and worthless about ever gaining control of her eating and no longer feeling so miserable in her body.

Does that sound familiar? Because this is a story I hear all the time from my patients who are struggling with food and body image issues. And it’s one of the reasons that they join the anchor program. So what steps can Joanie take to get unstuck from this vicious cycle of shame, guilt, and unwanted behaviors? Well, first of all, it’s important to be aware of what shame feels like in your body and what triggers shame for you. Don’t expect those triggers to change either. So for example, for Joni, when she thought about it, if she had taken the time to think about it, she would have realized that being at her parents’ house was likely to trigger feelings of shame, that she kept reassuring herself that maybe it’ll be different this time. Maybe they won’t make these, you know, detrimental comments. But of course that didn’t change.

So being aware of what shame feels like in your body can enable you to intervene before you turn to food for comfort. So the second thing is to name your shame. Don’t use words like embarrassment or frustration. So for Joni, she could have called her friend and said, you know, I just went to my parents’ house and I was so embarrassed by how they talked with me. Oh, when you’re feeling shame, call it what it is. Giving it a name helps you to get some distance from it. Number three, don’t pile on more shame by judging yourself. As you know, we’ve talked about recently, the inner critic and the inner critic loves to ramp up your shame. So when Johnny’s mom made comments about her weight, she had the thought, well, when Johnny’s mom made comments about our weight, saying, I see you haven’t lost your pregnancy weight yet.

Johnny piled it on by thinking in her mind, I’m just fat and worthless. You’re right, mom. So judging yourself only exacerbates the shame and guilt that you feel, and it only makes it more likely that you are going to bend your overeat or have other behaviors that you don’t want to have. Number four, remind yourself that you’re a work in progress. Remember paying as part of the human condition, you’re human, but you don’t have to be perfect. Being kind to yourself using self-compassion can help to reduce the shame. Number five, reach out for support. Now your first instinct is going to be to keep your shame a secret. You want to crawl under the covers and not tell anybody about what happened, but it’s really important that, well maybe crawl under the covers for a little while, but then come out and talk about your shame with someone you really trust because this will immediately reduce that emotional distress that you’re feeling and that you feel you need to push away with food.

Number six, be aware that when you feel shame or guilt over eating or bingeing is not far away. So by using self-compassion, you can keep from hurting yourself. If you want to eat chips, be kind yourself, eating enough to take the sting out of that a shame without doing too much damage or find other ways to distract yourself from how you’re feeling. If you are in the middle of shame, and I know this happened for me a couple of weeks ago and I started thinking, well, I’ll just, you know, I’ll just eat this bag of cookies and I stopped for a moment and realize that I could eat the whole bag of cookies and a bag of chips. And the shame was not going to go away. Not even for very long, maybe a couple minutes while I’m chomping down, but it would come back and then I would feel even worse.

So if you’re able to be aware that the eating is going to come up, the neat, the craving to eat or the craving for sugar is only a symptom of your need to practice self compassion for your shame and guilt. And then finally, number seven, don’t let shame define you. Shame is an emotion you’re feeling. It’s not who you are. And this is so important. It’s so easy to fall into believing that we are this horrible person. We deserve all of the shame and guilt that we have. And, and it’s not, it’s just not true. So again, if you can see yourself in a new light as someone going through a process, and if you can see that all the challenges and what you may have called failures and mistakes along the way are just part of that journey, it may help you recognize that what’s ahead on your journey is up to you and it’s all part of your process.

Now studies show that if you respond to life’s difficulties with self-compassion, this can actually reduce depression, stress, performance, anxiety and body to satisfaction. And it can increase your self confidence and even your immune function. And the most important thing is that the deepest healing is awakening to who you truly are. Seeing yourself, your flaws, your mistakes with compassion and accepting that as part of who you truly are. When you are able to do this, you’ll find yourself moving beyond just the focus on, you know, when the next Benz Benji’s or when can I get to that cake in the fridge or how ice cream can I get in today? Or any of those other thoughts or obsessions about food over time as you come to know yourself and stop judging your past and accept yourself just as you are. You know how they say warts and all character flaws and all, you’ll feel more compassion towards other people as well.

Now I just want to remind you of the three ways to cultivate self-compassion. Notice your own suffering, admit the impact of your behaviors on your feelings of suffering, your emotional distress, and open your heart to accept and notice the suffering your eating behaviors have caused. And I’ve also shared with you a link to the loving kindness meditation, which I encourage you to practice on a regular basis as a way to cultivate self compassion. So you know, in the anchor program, a lot of people that I work with come to me feel feelings so badly about themselves, often even feeling a negative, having a lot of negative soft self talk about themselves or even about their younger selves, their children selves. I don’t know if that’s confusing or not, but I think you know what I mean. When you think about the little girl that you were or the little boy that you were who uh, had something difficult happen in his life and his or her life and turn to food.

And you may be unconsciously blaming that child for getting, you know, starting this process and causing you to get where you are when in fact, you know, the children do not have the same skills that adults have. So it’s important to cultivate self compassion. And this is one of the ways in which you can do it, is by using the loving kindness meditation, which basically says, may you be filled with loving kindness. May you be safe from inner and outer dangers. May you be well in body and mind and may you be at ease and happy. One more time. May you be filled with loving kindness. May you be safe from inner and outer dangers. May you be well in body and mind. And may you be at ease and happy. Now, the first few times that you use this meditation, it can feel really weird or strange and you may have other feelings like you, you may have all your negative self talk come up when you think about saying this to yourself, but just allow that to happen.

Be patient and kind towards yourself, whatever feelings come up to come up. But continuing to to uh, practice the loving kindness meditation. Okay. Well thank you so much for listening. I want to just remind you that we have a new anchor program starting soon and the anchor program is a 12 week non diet program offering online group and individual sessions for the treatment of binge eating, emotional eating, food addiction and compulsive over eating. And there’ll be a link in the show notes for you to learn more about that as well as another link to the free loving kindness meditation. And then coming up in the next podcast we’ll be talking about emotional eating, so be sure and stay tuned. And I want to again, ask you to leave a review for the podcast, so, so we can, it can help us get the word out and join me next week to talk about emotional eating. Thank you.


Download the free loving kindness meditation: https://carolynrossmd.com/loving-kindness-meditation/