Shame, Self-Compassion & Eating Disorders

by | Sep 18, 2018 | Body Image, Eating Disorders, HAES, Self-Compassion

Grace Russell, Dietitian, Baulkham Hills NSW
18 September 2018


A powerful emotion and one that is often experienced by those with an eating disorder. Many studies suggest that shame is one of the strongest emotions leading to eating disorder behaviours.

Shame can be described as a painful self-conscious emotion triggered and perpetuated by perceiving oneself as flawed, and believing that others share this view.

This may be temporarily relieved by restricting intake, excessive exercising, binge eating and purging in an attempt to self regulate and self protect. However, in the long term shame becomes more deep seated as the belief that one is defective/flawed is perpetuated.

There is more and more evidence that developing self compassion can help individuals break out of this cycle and begin recovery.

What is Self Compassion?

Self compassion can be defined as extending compassion to one’s self in times of perceived inadequacy, failure, or general suffering. Self compassion is one of the few skills that directly targets shame and research suggests it is highly effective in doing so. The 3 key areas of self compassion are:

  • Kindness to oneself (rather than self-criticising and judging)
  • Understanding that all humans suffer (rather than feeling isolated)
  • Mindfulness of our thoughts and feelings (rather than being consumed by our thoughts and feelings)

Self compassion and Eating

As a Dietitian, my focus is on helping people have healthy relationships with food. Therefore, I am very interested in strategies that help people become more mindful of food choices and free to eat any food without guilt.

We live in a society that fears failure and instead promotes an unrealistic way to live. When it comes to eating and body image there are a myriad of times we can feel shame so it can be so helpful to learn some practical skills of self compassion. 

Self compassion may look like….

  • Distinguishing between the critical voice ‘I hate the way clothes look on me’ and the empowering voice ‘I’m eating for recovery today’. We all have different voices which influence the way we act, think and feel. By noticing them we are better able to tune in and utilise our empowering voice.
  • Journaling your thoughts and feelings to identify what your shame triggers may be and moments in the day where you have used self compassion.
  • Reminding yourself of positive affirmations, for e.g., ‘my happiness does not depend on my weight or size, but on who I am and what I do.’
  • Being mindful of difficult emotions by asking yourself, ‘How am I feeling? What do I need? How would I treat a good friend in this situation?’

Self compassion is a process so be patient and gentle along the way. It is a daily practice of being kind to yourself, observing mindfully and identifying common human struggles.

Want more support to reduce shame and increase self compassion?

If you would like additional support building your skills in increasing self-compassion check out for additional resources or speak to our friendly intake team to discuss how we can assist you. 

If you are suffering from an eating disorder, being part of an experienced treatment team is essential. Please contact The Talbot Centre for more information.

Grace Russell

Dietitian, Baulkham Hills NSW
Grace is enthusiastic about supporting women of all ages to find their own authentic health. Grace brings a caring, compassionate nature to her work and believes that kindness towards the self is a crucial agent for change. She is passionate about blending this with practical skills to ensure her patients can approach eating in a realistic, manageable way.