In Part One of this blog we discussed how guilt and shame are interconnected yet distinct dynamics; guilt arises from actions, while shame is more stubborn, stemming from a deep-seated, negative self-perception.

The Cost Of Shame

Shame can lead to depression and anxiety, even going as far as causing harm to one’s physical health, leading to high blood pressure and sleep issues. Shame has been linked to substance abuse (leading to more shame.) And of course, shame also figures in eating disorders.

Shame can be both the cause of and response to eating issues.

Research suggests that shame plays a significant role in disordered eating patterns. (Interestingly, a European study broke that down into two parts, finding that shame stemming from feelings of powerless (external shame) was linked to anorexia severity, while shame related to low self-worth (internal shame) was connected to bulimia severity.)

Most notably, researchers found that experiencing increased shame led to more severe eating disorders, while increased self-compassion and reduced eating pathology decreased feelings of shame. These findings point out the almost chicken-and-the-egg aspect of the dynamic. Shame can lead to more profound eating issues, which can lead to more shame. Addressing what is specifically at the root of someone’s shame and promoting self-compassion can help improve outcomes.

Shame Fluctuates

These studies looked at how shame, self-compassion, and eating disorder symptoms fluctuated over time for individual patients. And they found that when someone was experiencing a period of increased shame, their eating disorder behaviors tended to get worse. But on the flip side, when someone had a stretch of lower-than-usual shame or higher self-compassion, their eating issues improved. So it seems shame and the eating disorder reinforce each other in a cyclical way.

The point is, being kinder to ourselves can help interrupt the shame/eating disorder cycle. If we practice being more understanding and gentle with ourselves, it might help us ease this problem.

A quick side note: Thoughts on “Shaming”

Nowadays, when we hear the word “shame,” it’s often used as a verb—as in “fat shaming” or “body shaming;” making critical, humiliating, or mocking comments about someone’s body shape, size, or appearance. Yet, for reasons I’ve already discussed, shame is an emotion that comes from within, not something that can be easily inflicted from outside. So let’s not mince words: if someone is trying to make another person feel shame because of some aspect of their appearance, I’d suggest a more accurate term for that: Bullying.

Your Toolbox for Overcoming Shame

When we take the first, tentative step to break the secrecy around the sources of our shame, we begin to realize that we’re not alone in our struggles. The cycle can be broken when the person struggling with the eating issues is open to confronting and processing their feelings. Our fears of condemnation from others often fail to materialize when we show honesty and vulnerability. True healing often requires having the courage to bring our shame into the light through honest self-disclosure. Embracing self-compassion can start to dissolve the terrible grip of shame. Shame loses its grip when we bring it out of the darkness and into the light of understanding. And in sharing our truth, we start to accept self-compassion, stripping shame of its power.

Finally, reframing our inner dialogue is key to letting go of shame and embracing a more compassionate self-perception. As the saying goes, “change your thoughts, change your life.” Mindfulness plays a crucial role in this process, enabling us to observe our self-talk and challenge the harsh judgments that fuel feelings of shame. By extending the same grace, understanding, and patience to ourselves that we would offer a loved one in pain, we may create an environment where our own deepest vulnerabilites are met with kindness. When we choose to relate to ourselves with self-compassion— because what we tell ourselves, after all, is a choice—we encourage our own healing, growth, and a deeper connection to our authentic selves.

The Take-Away

For anyone dealing with an eating disorder, shame can feel like an inescapable burden. But you have the power to embrace a new perspective. By understanding shame’s roots and impacts, and nurturing self-compassion over self-criticism, you can break free from shame’s grip. The journey isn’t easy, but you have the strength to silence that inner shaming voice and open yourself to the healing you deserve.