By: Sarah Schmermund

We’ve all been there: you indulge in a brownie(s) at a mid-morning meeting only to inhale a soda and bag of potato chips in the afternoon; you already “ruined” your diet for the day, so it doesn’t matter, right? Or perhaps after a rough day at work you find yourself three-quarters of the way through a pint of Ben n’ Jerry’s. Indeed, research has found that the “disinhibition effect,” instances of overeating by restrained eaters, can be prompted by both eating forbidden foods or self-esteem. Dieters who experienced an ego-threat (like failing at a seemingly easy task) ate more ice cream than those that did not fail; those who had just eaten a milkshake at more ice cream than those who had not. While we’re regularly advised to engage our willpower and self-discipline in order to reach our health and fitness goals, these internal mechanisms, often based on self-criticism, tend come up short in the face of stress. So how do we defend against the self-criticism intended to counteract our stress/guilt/feelings of inadequacy/second candy bar?

According to a growing field of psychological research, the key component may be compassion. Specifically, self-compassion: how kindly people view themselves. While it is often easy to be supportive and understanding of others, people are often much harder on themselves for perceived failures, like not exercising or struggling at work.

However, recent research suggests that being a little easier on ourselves may be good for our health. Those with high self-compassion scores are happier, more optimistic, and exhibit less depression and anxiety. Moreover, people with self-compassion may be better at regulating what they eat, helping them lose weight.

Dr. Kristin Neff, author of “Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind,” notes that “self-compassions is really conducive to motivation.” “With self-compassion, if you care about yourself, you do what’s healthy for you rather than what’s harmful.” She offers a set of exercises, like writing yourself a letter of support, or using compassionate mantras during meditation, to help increase your self-compassion.

Further research suggests that self-compassion interventions may also influence eating behaviors. At the beginning of a research study, women were asked to eat doughnuts, with one group receiving a lesson of self-compassion along with the decadent treats. “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.”

The groups of women were then asked to taste-test candy from a large bowl.Those reporting regular dieting or guilty feelings about forbidden foods but had been reassured by the instructor ate less candy, while those not given that message ate more.The researchers suggest that the women who felt bad about eating the doughnuts were engaging in emotional overeating, while the women who utilized their self-compassion to permit themselves to enjoy the treats did not.

With most diet plans focusing on self-discipline and deprivation, it’s no wonder one mid-morning misstep can spiral into an all-day binge. Reminding ourselves that nobody is perfect and ups-and-downs are normal for everybody may allow us to better reach our weight loss goals. ?Want to find out how self-compassionate you are? Click here to take the test!

Adams, C.E. & Leary, M.R. (2007). Promoting self-compassionate attitudes toward eating among restrictive and guilty eaters. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 26(10), 1120-1144.

Neff, K.D., Rude, S.S., & Kirkpatrick, K.L. (2007). An examination of self-compassion in relation to positive psychological functioning and personality traits. Journal of Research in Personality, 41, 908-916. doi: 10.1016/j.jrp.2006.08.002

Parker-Pope, T. (2011). Go easy on yourself, a new wave of research urges. The New York Times. Retrieved from:?