Self-compassion is a vital component of inner parenting and addressing disordered eating patterns.

Self-compassion is a vital component of inner parenting and addressing disordered eating patterns. In the last decade, there have been approaches that use elements of self-compassion to do this that include Internal Family Systems, somatic experiencing, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Inner parenting is a term that has been around for decades but was popularized in the 1990s by Ray Bradshaw’s seminal book “Home Coming.”  Inner parenting refers to the process of caring for one’s own emotional and psychological well-being, much like a parent would care for their child. It turns out that there are many downstream issues related to fractures in developmental attachment that increase the need for inner parenting. One of the daily issues I see in my clinical practice is disordered eating patterns such as restrictive dieting, emotional eating, and binge eating, which can stem from a lack of self-compassion and self-acceptance. By practicing self-compassion, individuals can begin to shift their relationship with food and their bodies, leading to increased interoceptive awareness and success in intuitive eating.

Interoception refers to the ability to sense and interpret internal bodily signals, such as hunger and fullness

Interoception refers to the ability to sense and interpret internal bodily signals, such as hunger and fullness. Disordered eating patterns often involve a disconnection from these signals and a lack of trust in one’s own body. Self-compassion can help individuals reconnect with their body’s natural cues by fostering a sense of self-acceptance and self-trust and improving interoceptive awareness. Instead of relying on external rules and diet culture to dictate eating habits, individuals can begin to rely on their internal signals.

Self-compassion involves being kind and understanding towards oneself, even in moments of failure or weakness.

Self-compassion involves being kind and understanding towards oneself, even in moments of failure or weakness. It also involves recognizing that suffering and imperfection are a universal human experience. This recognition can help individuals overcome the rigid, perfectionistic standards that often drive disordered eating patterns. By being kind and understanding towards oneself, individuals can begin to let go of the shame and guilt that often accompany disordered eating patterns. This isn’t easy, however, to do, but it has been proven to be incredibly effective. 

Self-compassion also involves mindfulness, being present in the moment, and being aware of one’s thoughts and emotions without judgment. Mindfulness can help individuals recognize when they are using food as a coping mechanism for emotional distress and instead focus on addressing the underlying emotional issue.

“A person who never learned to trust confuses intensity with intimacy, obsession with care, and control with security.”
― John Bradshaw, Homecoming: Reclaiming and Healing Your Inner Child

Furthermore, self-compassion can help individuals develop a more balanced relationship with food. Instead of viewing certain foods as “good” or “bad,” individuals can begin to consider all foods as neutral and give themselves permission to eat what they genuinely desire without guilt or shame. Beyond that, or perhaps an advanced form of intuitive eating that I use in my classes but not talked about often is accepting oneself even if they are still labeling food as “good” or “bad.” Because of the high failure rate I see of intuitive eating in my practice, I have found this approach helpful. Sometimes we diet, sometimes, we judge, and sometimes we don’t find food freedom, but we can still be kind to ourselves. I call this “not judging the judging.”  This can lead to success in intuitive eating and mindful eating, an approach that emphasizes listening to one’s own body and eating based on internal cues rather than external rules.

My hope is that self-compassion will be seen as a central healing tool that is valuable for inner parenting in disordered eating patterns. It can help individuals reconnect with their body’s natural cues, develop trust in themselves, and let go of rigid perfectionistic standards. By practicing self-compassion, individuals can increase interoceptive awareness and achieve success in intuitive eating. It is important to note that self-compassion is not a magic solution to solve all eating disordered related problems. However, it is a powerful tool that can be used in combination with other interventions, such as therapy and support groups.