Can’t fight the craving? Instead, don’t beat yourself up.
Losing weight can be difficult when high-calorie snacks and junk food are so readily available and affordable, making it easy to overeat or skip your diet.
A new study published in the journal Appetite found that those who were more self-compassionate when faced with a setback had higher success in self-controlling their eating and exercise behavior in the following hours.
Researchers from the Center for Weight, Nutrition, and Lifestyle Sciences (WELL Center) at Drexel University’s College of Arts and Sciences wanted to determine whether self-compassion—treating yourself with the same care and kindness that people treat others loved ones – would help a person bounce back more easily from overeating.
“Many people worry that self-compassion will cause complacency and lead them to accept inadequacy, but this study is a great example of how self-compassion can help people achieve their goals,” Charlotte Hagerman, PhD, assistant research professor at the College and lead author of the study, said in a press release.
Data were collected from 140 participants trying to lose weight through a group lifestyle modification program.
Several times a day, respondents filled out surveys asking about their mood, whether they had experienced an eating lapse, the extent to which they had self-compassion in response to that lapse, and how much self-control they had exercised over their eating. and exercise habits from the last survey to which they had responded.
A food error was defined as eating more than intended, eating a food they did not intend to eat, or eating a moment they did not intend to eat.
“The road to achieving difficult goals – especially weight loss – is paved with setbacks. Practicing self-compassion helps people deal with self-defeating thoughts and feelings in response to failures so that they are less debilitated by them. In turn, they can more quickly continue to pursue their goals,” Hagerman said.
Hagerman also noted that although losing weight and keeping it off are challenging tasks, people tend to blame themselves and their lack of determination or self-control.
“In reality, we live in a food environment that has set everyone up for failure,” Hagerman pointed out.
“Practicing self-compassion instead of self-criticism is a key strategy for building resilience during the difficult process of weight loss,” Hagerman said. “The next time you feel the need to criticize yourself for your eating behavior, try talking to yourself with the kindness you would talk to a friend or loved one.”
An example of gracious self-talk would be to tell yourself, “You’re doing the best you can in a world that makes it very difficult to lose weight,” instead of shaming yourself with, “You have no willpower.”
Doing this doesn’t mean you’re letting yourself “go off the hook,” Hagerman explained, but rather it’s giving yourself the grace to continue the difficult process.
“It can be easy for the message of self-compassion to get muddied so that people practice complete self-forgiveness and reject the goals they set for themselves,” she said. “But we’ve shown that self-compassion and accountability can work together.”
The researchers hope that the findings will allow for more effective interventions to teach and practice self-care in times of frustration.
They also hope to be able to study the best strategies for doing so by teaching people “how to practice true self-compassion, reducing self-blame and criticism, while holding themselves accountable to their personal standards and goals.” ».