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Befriending your body: A Self-Compassionate Approach to Freeing Yourself from Disordered Eating Interview

Ann Saffi Biasetti, PhD, LCSW, joined us for an interview on her book, Befriending your body: A Self-Compassionate Approach to Freeing Yourself from Disordered Eating. What follows are our questions in italics, and Ann’s thoughtful responses.

You suggest a definition of disordered eating in befriending your body: A Self-Compassionate Approach to Freeing Yourself from Disordered Eating.Can you please share it with us?

Yes, it is a simple definition that I ask my clients when they first come to see me and are hesitant or unsure about what is happening in their life and their relationship with body/food. I ask the question: do you feel free around food and within your body? Do thoughts of food and your body feel all-consuming to you? I find, even when someone is caught in the grasp of denial about the actual diagnosis, she/he can still answer these questions from an honest place. These questions bypass just a list of symptoms and go right to the heart of the current situation and their life. From this honest place, we are able to explore how much life has changed, what has been lost along the way, and what aspects she/he is hoping to gain back again.

Why seek external sources of compassion in recovery?

When one has spent a long time in self-critical thought, self-harming behavior and often self-loathing, there is little self-compassion to be found. Even discussing the topic of being kind to oneself may be difficult to grasp as the self-critical and fear-driven noise is just too loud. During a time like this, it is important to pay close attention to the kindness coming your way from others around you, even in simple ways, such as someone holding open a door for you, or sending a smile your way. It is these little moments of compassion from the outside that matter in planting the seeds to awaken your own self-compassion. If you open your eyes and ears, what you find is there are often many people around cheering you on and wishing for your success. Recovery is hard work and sometimes one needs to ride on the hope, concern, and care from the outside to help build the internal hope, concern, and care necessary to take the leap to go forward.

Compassion and connection go hand in hand. Connecting with another or anything that inspires you is one way to lessen isolation and to begin to understand that you are not alone in your suffering. Listening to what those who care about you have to say, picking up a self-help book, listening to a podcast, seeking professional help, or calling on a friend, are just some of the ways to open the door to connection. Let others give to you what you may not yet be ready to give to yourself.

I also invite clients to call to mind a friend that is suffering and consider the compassionate words and care that she/he would give to that friend. I remind them that the same care and concern felt for a friend is able to be cultivated and directed toward oneself. If you have it for another you have it for yourself. It is inside waiting to be awakened.

Can you explain why it’s important for an individual to recognize and take care of their needs?

Recognizing that you have needs and beginning to take care of them is the first step in beginning to practice and embrace self-compassion and your internal power. Another way to look at this is that to truly own your recovery you need to allow yourself to have needs! Acknowledging what you need and taking action around that is very empowering and leads to the development of self-agency, which is your ability to act upon and have an impact in your life. The more you can express and act upon needs, the more you develop this internal feeling of self-agency, which really helps you to feel more and more powerful from the inside. As you feel more powerful on the inside there is less and less of a need to hold onto external behaviors as a source of power, as they no longer serve the same need in your life anymore.

Taking care of your own needs also helps you to develop trust in yourself to go forward in recovery. One of the phrases I heard most often in my doctoral research was the need to “own” recovery and take ownership of needs and actions. This was a powerful shift in self-care and compassion.

Please discuss the concept of interoceptive awareness and its value in recovery.

I believe we are on the cusp of research and discovery regarding the role of interoceptive awareness (IA) in recovery. Interoceptive awareness, or the understanding of one’s body from the inside out, is being able to sense your body on internal levels such as temperature, bodily sensations, hunger/fullness cues, heart rate, rate of respiration, and energy levels along with other fine-tuning of the internal body. Research informs that for those struggling with an eating disorder, especially in Anorexia, that IA is lacking, primarily due to the areas of the brain that are effected during ongoing behavior such as restriction. The area of the brain involved in IA is the insula which plays a primary role in the sensing of bodily signals. When this area is interrupted it is difficult for one to have a clear register of what is happening in their body and can lead to that cut-off feeling or separate feeling of mind/body that most clients with eating disorders report.

Guiding a client through practices of interoceptive awareness, by focusing on internal bodily signals and gentle movement of the body allows one to begin to engage and activate this area of the brain that has been shut down and misfiring for a long time. I find that when I engage my clients in these practices, they tend to report a large decrease in eating disorder thoughts or “noise,” and are much more focused in the present moment. I encourage my clients to practice questions of IA every day to engage in this internal connection rather than external focus and disconnection.

You encourage self-compassionate recovery “to embrace and heal at all” levels. Please elaborate.

Recovery is hard work, no matter what stage one is. Embracing recovery, right from the beginning, with small steps and practices of self-compassion allows one to understand that suffering is universal and that this path is hard work and we need all the external and internal support we can get. We practice self-compassion becausewe are suffering, not necessarily to get rid of suffering. Self-compassion is a universal human need. All research on self-compassion shows it to increase a sense of hope, a mediator of difficult emotions, thoughts and behaviors, and a soother of fear. Self-compassion is also shown to lessen perfectionistic and self-critical thoughts, and to increase motivation and the desire to alleviate one’s own suffering helping to propel recovery forward.

Self-compassion also allows one to hold slip-ups and hard days with a newfound layer of gentleness. This gentleness, over time, helps one to internalize a “good enough” re-parenting, whereby someone becomes their own forgiving protector and guardian. In my doctoral research, self-compassion practiced long-term, was found to be part of the cycle of self-integration and actualization, which includes not just behavioral recovery but self-psychological and spiritual growth as well.

By living a fully embodied life, you remind readers that not only body acceptance but gratitude for your body can follow. Can you offer some self-talk that can aid this process?

I ask clients to start with the following:

I understand that my body has never meant to cause me any harm. It is not my enemy but rather, the holding place for all my confused thoughts and heavy emotions.

My body is longing to return to its natural order and internal balance and it needs my help.

My body can help me to ground and calm.

I will forgive myself for any harm I may have unintentionally caused my body through disordered behaviors.

My body is a great source of wisdom and knowledge, I will learn to listen deeply within.

I was born alive and connected to my body. I will learn how to come back to this “home.”

As I develop a new, trusting relationship with my body I will honor and respect it and treat it as I would a good friend.

You’ve included some “practices” in your book for people to incorporate into their lives. What is one of your favorites?

The book is filled with so many practices in each chapter that it is hard for me to pick just one, however, the practice Feeling Emotions in the Body, is a very informative and powerful one for body image struggle and to assist an individual in building the understanding that feelings, thoughts and bodily sensation are correlated. One is not separate or occurring separately from the other. It’s a practice that assists in both emotional regulation and embodiment.

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About the author: 

Ann Saffi Biasetti, PhD, LCSW, has been a practicing Psychotherapist for 27 years. She has a private practice in Saratoga Springs, NY, where she specializes in somatic psychotherapy and eating disorder recovery, as well as owns An Embodied Life yoga therapy training center. She has a PhD in Transpersonal Psychology and is licensed as a Clinical Social Worker. She is an author and speaker on embodiment, women’s empowerment, body image, self-compassion, mind/body duality and recovery. Her first book, Befriending Your Body: A Self-Compassionate Approach to Freeing Yourself from Disordered Eating, was released through Shambhala publications in August, 2018. Ann is also a Certified Yoga Therapist (CIAYT) and a certified mindfulness and self-compassion teacher through the Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) program.


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