Posted on Jan 29, 2024, 3 p.m.
Weight loss and maintenance can be hard, people typically blame themselves for not having strong enough willpower. It seems as if everywhere we look, we are surrounded by food, which makes maintaining or losing weight extremely difficult because all this delicious and most often high-calorie food is so very easily accessible. Experiencing setbacks in a weight loss journey can be frustrating and demoralizing, unfortunately, this can often lead to people abandoning their goals.
A recent study published in Appetite from the Center for Weight, Eating and Lifestyle Sciences (WELL center) at Drexel University investigated whether practicing self-compassion (the act of treating oneself with the same kindness and care typically offered to friends and loved ones) would help those on weight loss journeys to become more resilient to overeating setbacks.
For this study, data was collected from 140 participants enrolled in a group-based lifestyle modification program to lose weight who filled out surveys multiple times a day to report if they had a dietary lapse, ate more than intended, food they were trying to avoid, ate outside of the eating time frame, and the extend they rescinded to the lapse with self-compassion. They also reported their moods and how well they were able to practice self-control over their eating and exercise behavior since their last survey response.
According to the researchers, when participants had more self-compassionate responses to overeating relapses, they reported better moods and self-control over their eating and exercise behavior in the hours following experiencing a lapse. The researchers suggest that self-compassion may help people engage in healthful weight loss behavior by helping them become less demoralized by setbacks.
“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,” said Charlotte Hagerman, Ph.D., an assistant research professor in the College and lead author. “The road to achieving difficult goals—especially weight loss—is paved with setbacks. 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.”
“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,” said Hagerman. “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.”
Rather than saying that: “You have no willpower,” try to reframe that statement to a kinder one such as: “You’re trying your best in a world that makes it very difficult to lose weight.” Hagerman says that this isn’t letting yourself “off the hook” think of it as giving yourself the grace to move forward in a highly challenging journey.
“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,” said Hagerman. “But we’ve shown that self-compassion and accountability can work together.”
Working hand in hand with practicing self-compassion, practicing mindfulness can help people make more healthful choices which may also help with weight management and weight loss goals. "Improvements in our self-awareness, of how different foods make us feel, of how our body feels in general, as well as our thoughts, emotions and physical sensations around eating healthy as well as unhealthy food, can influence people's dietary choices," said Eric B. Loucks, an associate professor of epidemiology, behavioral and social sciences, and director of the Mindfulness Center at Brown University.
As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before changing your wellness routine. This article is not intended to provide a medical diagnosis, recommendation, treatment, or endorsement. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.
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