Self compassion/kindness in weight regulation and behavior change

Mantzios, Michail, and Helen H. Egan. “On the Role of Self-compassion and Self-kindness in Weight Regulation and Health Behavior Change.” Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 8, 2017, pp. 229. Full text.

From the Abstract. The construct of self-compassion has been investigated in relation to health behaviors, health behavior change, and health outcomes such as regulated eating and weight loss. Self-compassion has been defined as a mindful awareness of oneself, which involves treating oneself kindly and understanding oneself during difficult and challenging times by realizing that such experiences are common amongst all humans described how self-compassion consists of three interrelated components: self-kindness (vs. self-judgment), common humanity (vs. isolation), and mindfulness (vs. over-identification).

While the psychological benefits are well documented, the health behaviors and outcomes may require more consideration, and this opinion manuscript aims to shed light on potential problems in eating and weight issues. Initial findings of self-compassion in assisting regulated eating are promising, and are explored next.

Current findings on mindfulness, eating behaviours, and obesity

chozenEatingMantzios, M., & Wilson, J. C. (2015). Mindfulness, Eating Behaviours, and Obesity: A Review and Reflection on Current Findings. Current Obesity Reports, 1-6. Full text.

Abstract. Mindfulness and mindful eating have become popular in recent years. In this review, we first explore what mindfulness is in the context of psychological research, and why it offers promise for eating behaviours and weight loss. Second, we review the main empirical findings for weight loss in mindfulness-based intervention programmes. Third, contradictions in the findings are explored in more depth, and suggestions are made regarding why they may be occurring. Fourth, the benefits of adding self-compassion (and compassion) training to mindfulness practise to assist weight loss is discussed. Finally, the limitations of the research literature (and possible solutions) are explored.

Overall, it is concluded that while mindfulness meditations that specifically focus on eating may be extremely helpful in promoting better eating behaviours, and assist in weight regulation, work is still needed to make such interventions appeal to a wider audience.

Less self-critical and more self-compassionate with loving-kindness meditation

Shahar, B., et al. (2014). A Wait‐List Randomized Controlled Trial of Loving‐Kindness Meditation Programme for Self‐Criticism. Clinical psychology & psychotherapy. Published online before inclusion in an issue. Full text.

Abstract. Self-criticism is a vulnerability risk factor for a number of psychological disorders, and it predicts poor response to psychological and pharmacological treatments. In the current study, we evaluated the efficacy of a loving-kindness meditation programme designed to increase self-compassion in a sample of self-critical individuals.

Summary. Self-criticism plays a major role in many psychological disorders and predicts poor response to brief psychological and pharmacological treatments for depression. The current study shows that loving-kindness meditation, designed to foster self-compassion, is efficacious in helping self-critical individuals become less self-critical and more self-compassionate. The study also suggests that practising loving-kindness may reduce depressive symptoms and increase positive emotions.

Self-compassion as intervention for trauma exposure

Seligowski, A. V., Miron, L. R., & Orcutt, H. K. (2014). Relations Among Self-Compassion, PTSD Symptoms, and Psychological Health in a Trauma-Exposed Sample. Mindfulness, 1-9.

From the Abstract. Emerging literature on self-compassion suggests that establishing and maintaining a compassionate perspective toward oneself and one’s experiences may help buffer against the negative effects of trauma exposure, such as psychopathology and reduced quality of life.

The goal of the current study was to examine relations among self-compassion, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptom severity, and overall psychological health in a sample of trauma-exposed university students. Further, the current study explored these associations while controlling for a theoretically related construct, psychological inflexibility. Participants were 453 undergraduate students enrolled in an introductory psychology course at a large Midwestern University (M age = 19.75).

Results demonstrate that increasing levels of self-compassion may represent an important area of intervention for trauma-exposed individuals.

Self-compassion and body dissatisfaction in women

Albertson, E. R., Neff, K. D., & Dill-Shackleford, K. E. (2014). Self-Compassion and Body Dissatisfaction in Women: A Randomized Controlled Trial of a Brief Meditation Intervention. Mindfulness, 1-11. Abstract.

Excerpts: Body dissatisfaction is a major source of suffering among women of all ages. One potential factor that could mitigate body dissatisfaction is self-compassion, a construct that is garnering increasing research attention due to its strong association with psychological health.

This study investigated whether a brief 3-week period of self-compassion meditation training would improve body satisfaction in a multigenerational group of women. Participants were randomized either to the meditation intervention group or to a waitlist control group.

Results suggested that compared to the control group, intervention participants experienced significantly greater reductions in body dissatisfaction, body shame, and contingent self-worth based on appearance, as well as greater gains in self-compassion and body appreciation. All improvements were maintained when assessed 3 months later. Self-compassion meditation may be a useful and cost-effective means of improving body image in adult women.

Meditative dialogue with survivors of complex childhood trauma

Lord, S. A. (2013). Meditative Dialogue: Cultivating Compassion and Empathy with Survivors of Complex Childhood Trauma. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, 22(9), 997-1014. Abstract

Complex childhood trauma often affects the capacities of survivors to experience empathy and compassion toward themselves and others. Recent mindfulness literature recognizes meditation as an evidence-based practice that is able to change the brain, increasing one’s capacities for empathy and compassion.

This article offers an exploration of selected literature on complex childhood trauma and on mindfulness practices related to the development of compassion and empathy. A case study illustrates the use of a meditative dialogue practice in psychotherapy with a survivor of complex childhood trauma that serves to increase her ability to have empathy and compassion for herself and others.

Reduces negative relationship between impulsivity and weight loss

Mantzios, M., & Wilson, J. C. (2013). Moderating the negative relationship between impulsivity and weight loss through self-compassion. Appetite, 71, 481.

Abstract. Recent research suggested that self-compassion positively supports and explains mindfulness. One of the many benefits of mindfulness is assisting with impulse control, which in turn, supports people who want to regulate their weight. While such research shows promise, a major concern is that, occasionally, everyone fails to resist temptation. A way to potentially deal with such failure is by enhancing self-compassion (which includes mindfulness), and may propose a kinder approach to deal with failures in impulse control.

This study explored, through linear regressions and moderation analysis, whether (a) self-compassion positively explains weight loss, and (b) if self-compassion moderates the negative relationship between impulsivity and weight loss. University students (n=141); 66 males and 75 females), who expressed an interest to lose weight by responding to an advertisement, completed questionnaires in self-compassion and impulsivity. Also, height and weight were measured at baseline and after 5 weeks to record any actual weight differences.

Results indicated that the model of self-compassion and impulsivity significantly explained weight loss. Further, self-compassion significantly reduced the negative relationship between impulsivity and weight loss. The findings suggest that self-compassion may help people eat less and weaken the negative effect of impulsivity on weight loss. Noticeable limitations (i.e., the student sample, correlational design, and medium effect size) suggest that more research is required.

While these preliminary findings of self-compassion and weight regulation appear promising, it is a topic that is fairly new and should be explored further in future research, ideally by employing compassion-based interventions and in conjunction with mindfulness.

Mindfulness and self-compassion to assist weight loss

Mantzios, M., & Wilson, J. C. (2013). Making concrete construals mindful: A novel approach for developing mindfulness and self-compassion to assist weight loss. Psychology & Health, (just-accepted), 1-41.

Abstract. Research on the usefulness of mindfulness and self-compassion for dieting has focused on meditative practices. However, meditation can be difficult to maintain, especially while dieting. Thus, the present research attempted to induce mindfulness and self-compassion by using food diaries that required the participant to either focus on concrete (i.e. how they are eating) construals or abstract (i.e. why they are eating) construals.

The concrete construals were expected to increase mindfulness and self-compassion, as well as decrease avoidance and negative thoughts (which would further aid the development of mindfulness and self-compassion). Study 1 found that mindfulness and self-compassion mediated the inverse relationship of avoidance and negative thoughts with weight loss. Study 2 showed that concrete construal diaries increased mindfulness and self-compassion, decreased avoidance and negative thoughts, and supported weight loss significantly more than the abstract construal diaries.

Study 3, then, compared the concrete construal diaries with a mindful self-compassionate meditation programme. There was no difference in weight loss at the end of the intervention, but at a three-month follow-up, the diaries performed better at weight maintenance. Thus, the concrete construal diaries may promote mindfulness and self-compassion and potentially promote long-term weight loss.

Mindfulness, self-compassion, and gender as predictor of stress and well-being

Soysa, C. K., & Wilcomb, C. J. (2013). Mindfulness, Self-compassion, Self-efficacy, and Gender as Predictors of Depression, Anxiety, Stress, and Well-being. Mindfulness, 1-10. Abstract.

We examined facets of mindfulness (describing, awareness, non-judging, and non-reactivity), three dimensions of negative self-compassion (self-judgment, isolation, and overidentification), self-efficacy, and gender as predictors of depression, anxiety, stress, and well-being among 204 undergraduates in the USA.

Excerpts: Although there is overlap across these phenomena, previous research has not examined them together. Describing, non-judging, and awareness (inversely), as well as isolation and self-judgment, predicted depression. Only mindful non-judging and non-reactivity predicted anxiety (inversely). Non-judging, awareness, and non-reactivity (inversely), as well as isolation, predicted stress. Mindful describing and non-judging, together with self-efficacy and gender, predicted well-being. After accounting for self-efficacy, self-compassion, and gender, facets of mindfulness contributed unique variance in predicting depression, anxiety, stress, and well-being.

We confirmed the importance of mindful non-judging in predicting distress (inversely) and well-being and identified the particular contributions of mindful describing for depression (inversely) and well-being. We established the value of mindful non-reactivity (inversely) for anxiety and stress. Additionally, we confirmed the relevance of self-judgment and isolation for depression and of isolation for stress. Finally, we established self-efficacy and gender as predictors of well-being.

Reduces risk of burnout in teachers

Flook, L., et al. (2013). Mindfulness for Teachers: A Pilot Study to Assess Effects on Stress, Burnout, and Teaching Efficacy. Mind, Brain, and Education, 7(3), 182-195. Abstract.

Excerpt: Despite the crucial role of teachers in fostering children’s academic learning and social–emotional well-being, addressing teacher stress in the classroom remains a significant challenge in education. This study reports results from a randomized controlled pilot trial of a modified Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course adapted specifically for teachers.

Results suggest that the course may be a promising intervention, with participants showing significant reductions in psychological symptoms and burnout, improvements in observer-rated classroom organization and performance on a computer task of affective attentional bias, and increases in self-compassion. In contrast, control group participants showed declines in cortisol functioning over time and marginally significant increases in burnout. Furthermore, changes in mindfulness were correlated in the expected direction with changes across several outcomes (psychological symptoms, burnout, and sustained attention) in the intervention group.