Hosted by the Mental Health Foundation, this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week has a focus on kindness. “Being kind to yourself is one of the most psychologically liberating things you can do,” says Dr Linda Papadopoulos, who believes empathy, kindness and respect are crucial for our mental and physical wellbeing. So, if there is one gift truly worth giving yourself right now, it’s to treat yourself with compassion. Kindness is a gift that keeps on giving – boosting happiness, reducing stress levels, and helping to support the weight loss process.
Letting go of negative self-talk
Learning to talk to yourself more kindly may be key to coping with the psychological impact of life during and after the coronavirus lockdown period.
Research commissioned by Slimming World revealed that 60% of British adults have sometimes struggled with their weight or body image, and of those, 74% used self-critical language when describing how they’ve felt about themselves, using words like ‘failure’, ‘shame’, ‘dissatisfied’, ‘hopeless’, ‘anxious’, ‘invisible’, ‘uncomfortable’ ‘insecure’ and ‘embarrassed’.
The first step to change is accepting who you are right now – imperfections and all – and letting go of negative self-talk. Accepting that you’re not perfect, and that it’s OK to be flawed, just like the rest of the human race, is a key part of the process.
“We live in an era of self-improvement and there is a lot of positivity in that,” says Linda Papadopoulos. “It can mean that we are focused on what’s ‘wrong’ with us, though. We see ourselves as a work in progress and postpone feeling good about, or approving of, ourselves until we’ve achieved certain changes or goals. We can lose our self-belief and feeling of self-worth and, instead of seeking support, we sabotage our own goals because we don’t believe we’re capable of achieving them. Those of us involved in helping people to make changes that they can stick to long-term know that to break the cycle, inspiration and encouragement, ongoing support and treating people (including yourself) with empathy, kindness and respect is required.”
Being self-compassionate is also about changing your daily habits and making sure that your lifestyle choices support rather than undermine you. Choosing to eat nourishing, delicious food is one of the best ways of being kind to yourself – it’s like saying a big ‘thank you’ every day to your mind and body for working so hard.
When Slimming World groups were temporarily suspended back in March, it left thousands of members missing not only their familiar routines but also the friends, support and advice they found at their weekly groups. Thankfully, the new temporary My Slimming World Virtual Group service swiftly came into play, reuniting slimmers across the UK and Ireland from the comfort of their own living rooms. This has meant that Slimming World members can continue receiving that expert support to make healthier food choices and find new ways to stay active indoors, getting together weekly to offer encouragement and share how they’re staying in control of healthy new lifestyle habits, despite the difficult circumstances.
Dr Jacquie Lavin, Slimming World’s head of nutrition and research, says that peer support is crucial in learning to calm our inner critic. “By creating a supportive environment, free from judgement or humiliation, Slimming World helps members tackle self-criticism, building confidence and self-esteem, in order to make positive behaviour changes. Our members are able to take pride in being part of a group that genuinely cares for and helps one other – it’s this pride and sense of belonging that helps members learn to value themselves, quieten their inner critic and turn negative self-talk into more positive feelings. Group is where they talk about the new challenges they’re facing, share their achievements despite the difficult times and work together to develop new strategies to manage their weight and stay on track, whatever life throws their way – and the temporary My Slimming World Virtual Groups are allowing that to continue.”
Our target member Olivia experienced the power of group support, after an unkind comment led her to give up her dream job on a cruise ship. She says, “Being part of a supportive group makes it much easier to believe in yourself and each other. I definitely don’t talk myself down any more. Instead, I feel so proud of how far I’ve come.”
Taking time for you
Treat yourself with kindness – if unhealthier foods have been subconsciously filed under ‘treats’ in your brain, it’s easy to think that healthier eating means denying or even punishing yourself. Which of these choices is kinder, though: grabbing whatever fast food or sugary treats are on hand when you’re hungry, or taking the time to plan, prepare and enjoy balanced, healthy and delicious meals? “Think of it this way,” says Linda Papadopoulos: “If you’ve had a tough day, then you absolutely deserve to eat a meal that will nurture you and keep you healthy.”
Planning and preparing your favourite meals for yourself, then taking the time to really taste and enjoy them, isn’t an indulgence – it’s a wonderful way to treat yourself with kindness.
Slimming World member Emily made the most of the sunshine, cooking her lean steak on the BBQ. She says: “Today has been a good day food wise. Made good choices and feeling positive.”
There will be times when you make choices that aren’t in your best interests, and it’s important not to give yourself a hard time when that happens. “Berating yourself for going off plan makes you feel worse, triggering comfort-eating or self-sabotage and making it harder to get back on track,” says Jacquie Lavin. “If you are kinder and think, ‘OK, that happened, but it’s just one meal out of 21 this week, so I can learn from this and move on’, you are more likely to be able to get straight back on plan.”
It’s easy to get out of touch with our natural compassion, especially at the moment, when our daily lives have been disrupted and we’re adjusting to the new ‘normal’.
Showing kindness to others
“Being kind by looking out for ways to help others, however small, can also help you feel closer to those around you,” says Linda Papadopoulos.
Slimming World’s Mind Your Language study revealed a third of those who sometimes struggle with their weight or body image say that their friends, family or partner/spouse negatively affect their self-esteem on a daily basis.
“Training your mind to see the best in yourself also helps you see the best in others,” says Linda Papadopoulos. “And that boosts your self-esteem – while having judgemental thoughts about others rarely makes anyone feel good.”
That feel-good buzz you get when you let a fellow driver out at a junction is down to oxytocin, the ‘bonding’ hormone that’s released when we connect with others. Being kind to people is about more than just ‘being nice’ or politeness – genuine compassion is about stepping into others’ shoes and feeling motivated to help or simply to empathise with them.
It’s a virtuous circle: being compassionate to others helps you feel better about yourself, and feeling better about yourself helps you step into other people’s shoes and realise they struggle just like you do. And ultimately, that sense of care and understanding makes the world a nicer place to be.
Self-compassion has been at the heart of Slimming World’s unique approach to weight loss right from the very beginning, more than 50 years ago, which is why we’re proud to support Public Health England’s Every Mind Matters campaign. The campaign aims to change the way we think about mental health and empower us to take positive steps to help ourselves and each other.
Many of our members may have experienced low confidence, sometimes caused by unkind comments from others, and often by their own negative feelings about themselves. Slimming World groups are a safe, supportive space for members to share these experiences and work on building their confidence and self-esteem. Find out more about joining Slimming World here.