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Practice 'Self-Compassion' to Help Reach Your Weight Loss Goals
  • Posted January 29, 2024

Practice 'Self-Compassion' to Help Reach Your Weight Loss Goals

It's not easy to lose weight, especially when facing a world filled with the temptation of tasty treats and rich, delicious meals.

But being kind to yourself can make the difference when it comes to sticking to a diet, a new study reports.

Dieters who practice self-compassion -- showing themselves the same care and kindness they'd show loved ones -- are better able to get past an overeating setback and stick to their weight-loss goals, researchers reported recently in the journal Appetite.

Study participants reported more self-control over their eating and exercise if they gave themselves a break regarding a recent diet lapse, researchers found.

The findings suggest that self-compassion can prevent people from becoming demoralized by a setback, said Charlotte Hagerman, an assistant research professor with Drexel University's Weight, Eating and Lifestyle Science (WELL) Center.

“Many people worry that self-compassion will cause complacency and lead them to settle for inadequacy, but this study is a great example of how self-compassion can help people be more successful in meeting their goals,” Hagerman said in a Drexel news release.

“The road to achieving difficult goals -- especially weight loss -- is paved with setbacks,” Hagerman added. “Practicing self-compassion helps people cope with self-defeating thoughts and feelings in response to setbacks, so that they are less debilitated by them. In turn, they can more quickly resume pursuing their goals.”

For the study, Hagerman and colleagues tracked 140 people trying to lose weight through a group-based lifestyle program.

The participants responded to smartphone surveys multiple times a day to report whether they'd fallen off their diet, and whether they were responding to their lapse with self-compassion.

A lapse could include eating more than intended, eating something they didn't intend, or eating at a time they didn't intend.

Researchers also quizzed participants about their mood and how well they'd practiced self-control over their eating and exercise since last asked.

Weight loss is extremely difficult, and it's easy for a dieter to blame themselves for a lack of willpower, Hagerman said.

“In reality, we live in a food environment that has set everyone up to fail. Practicing self-compassion rather than self-criticism is a key strategy for fostering resilience during the difficult process of weight loss,” Hagerman said.

“The next time you feel the urge to criticize yourself for your eating behavior, instead try speaking to yourself with the kindness that you would speak to a friend or loved one,” she added.

For example, instead of berating yourself for having no willpower, consider a kinder and more accurate take like, “You're trying your best in a world that makes it very difficult to lose weight.”

Hagerman argues that this isn't letting yourself “off the hook,” but giving yourself grace to move forward in a highly challenging process.

“It can be easy for the message of self-compassion to get muddied, such that people practice total self-forgiveness and dismiss the goals they set for themselves,” Hagerman said. “But we've shown that self-compassion and accountability can work together.”

More information

Harvard Medical School has more about self-compassion.

SOURCE: Drexel University, news release, Jan. 25, 2024

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