Can Self-Compassion Help Your Diet Succeed?

| by Kate Wharmby Seldman

Is it easier to modify your eating habits if you have compassion for yourself and your flaws, rather than beating yourself up for overindulging?

That’s the premise of a recent medical study covered in the New York Times’ Health section, which is now blossoming into a new diet theory.

In 2007, a Wake Forest University clinical team conducted an experiment in which 84 female college students took part in a taste test. Doctors divided the women into two groups: one tasted donuts, with no input from the clinical team. The doctors told the second group of women, “I hope you won’t be hard on yourself. Everyone in the study eats this stuff, so I don’t think there’s any reason to feel real bad about it.”

After this lesson in self-compassion, the second group of study participants ended up eating less than the first group. Researchers thought that this might be because the second group had given themselves permission to eat the donuts. Some women in the first group ended up eating more, especially if these women regularly dieted, or had reported feeling guilty about eating fatty food. Researchers thought this group of women might be indulging in emotional eating as a way to block out guilty and self-critical feelings.

The self-compassion theory has now begun to show up in diet books. Typically, diets involve self-discipline and deprivation. Diet-book authors like Harvard psychotherapist Jean Fain are penning tomes entitled “The Self-Compassion Diet,” in which dieters are instructed to be kind to themselves, rather than fall into a cycle of self-flagellation every time they cheat on their weight-loss plans.

Originally published on GrannyMed