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  • Writer's pictureCatherine Lott

Self-Compassion pt 2

Updated: Jan 16, 2023

In part 1 , I looked at self-compassion and how it's currently used in therapy and coaching. In this follow-up post, I want to have a look at how research is exploring the relationship between self-compassion and Eating Disorders. I will finish up by looking at easy ways to incorporate self-compassion into your daily life which can help you cope with the some of the pressures of recovery.

What is Self-Compassion?

In case you didn't read the first post, Self-compassion has become increasingly popular in the past ten or so years. With well over 200 journal articles and dissertations examining the topic, it has become a favoured tool within many schools of coaching and therapy. I like to use use it with clients myself when appropriate.

Self-compassion helps people learn how to extend the type of compassion to themselves in periods of inadequacy, failure or suffering, that they would to a good and loved friend.

Eating Disorders and Self-Compassion Studies

Findings across various studies consistently linked self-compassion to lower levels of eating pathology ( that's any symptom of an Eating Disorder), and self-compassion was implicated as a protective factor, (attributes or conditions that help people deal more effectively with stressful events) against poor body image and eating pathology, with a few exceptions.

These findings suggest self-compassion may protect against eating pathology by:

  • Decreasing the Eating Disorder related outcomes directly

  • Preventing the occurrence of a risk factor that would lead to a negative outcome

  • Interacting with risk factors to interrupt their impact

  • Disrupting the chain that allows risk factors to operate.

Study Findings

This is a quick overview of some of the findings. I've put more of the references (and other studies not mentioned here) just in case, like me, you actually enjoy reading these sort of studies.

Five articles assessed self-compassion and eating pathology in clinical ED samples. In study of ED outpatients from Portugal, the self-kindness dimension of self-compassion predicted a huge 37.6% variance in eating pathology (Ferreira, Matos, Duarte, & Pinto-Gouveia, 2014). Fear of self-compassion (i.e, “I feel that I don’t deserve to be kind and forgiving to myself” ), was observed to be the strongest predictor of disordered eating in a Canadian study (Kelly, Vimalakanthan, & Carter, 2014). Findings from these studies reflect that ED outpatients with greater self-kindness and less fear of self-compassion report lower eating pathology.

These findings were echoed by two studies reported in a series of three articles from a research group in Canada (Kelly & Carter, 2014; Kelly, Carter, & Borairi, 2014; Kelly et al., 2013). In both studies, predominantly female ED patients were assessed from baseline entry into standard eating disorder treatment and at 3, 6, 9, and 12 weeks of treatment.

In the first article, lower self-compassion and higher fear of self-compassion at the baseline significantly corresponded with more severe symptoms of eating disorders (Kelly et al., 2013).

The second article observed that patients who demonstrated greater gains in self-compassion early in treatment evidenced the most significant decreases in eating disorder symptoms over 12 weeks, a pattern also observed to a lesser degree in patients who evidenced relatively smaller early decreases in self-compassion (Kelly, Carter, et al., 2014).

In the third article patients with bulimia nervosa (BN) and eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS) demonstrated increased self-compassion across treatment, with the average rate of improvement in these groups greater than for the average of the AN-R and AN-BP groups (Kelly & Carter, 2014).

Importantly, overall, these three analyses suggest a consistent pattern linking self-compassion with lower levels of ED symptoms and greater gains in eating disorder treatment.

(It's important to note that assertions that low self-compassion causes body and ED- related outcomes can't be inferred from these studies.)

There is a host of compelling preliminary research suggesting that low self-compassion may low self-compassion may directly impair responsiveness to ED treatment, and high levels of self-compassion may cultivate other protective factors and improve outcomes for ED patients.

Developing Self-Compassion

Many people are born with self-compassion as part of their temperament, but it can be developed, through specific practice.

The work of Kristin Neff , Tara Brach (and others)can guide you through the many different ways to practice self-compassion.

Practising Self-Compassion in Recovery

Here are some simple ways to start incorporating self-compassion training into your day, and into your recovery journey.

  • Give yourself advice. Imagine that your best friend or a family member is going through a difficult time. How would you advise them? Really try and give yourself the same advice you would give to your loved one when you are struggling. Show yourself the same love and encouragement that you consistently and automatically show others.

  • Acknowledge and accept the moment. Instead of ignoring a moment of struggle and difficulty, be aware that it occurred and recognise that all human beings go through difficult times. Being mindful of the present moment helps you to create a clearer pathway towards finding a solution.

  • Work on re- framing the ‘eating disorder voice'. Actively try to recognise the triggers that bring out the eating disorder voice or make it louder or more demanding. If you can anticipate when the eating disorder voice will arise, practice how you will respond in those tough moments. Decide how you're going to respond positively in these moments. This could be positive self-talk, self-soothing techniques, or engaging in activities you enjoy to distract yourself.

  • Identify your goals. Identify your goals with an eating disorder recovery coach. What do you want to achieve during your eating disorder recovery? Reward yourself by doing things you enjoy when you have reached each step of your goals. You have the willpower and strength to treat yourself as your primary concern.

  • Write. Whether it is writing a letter of encouragement to yourself or keeping a daily journal, writing is an empowering process that helps you to find your own voice. Writing letters of encouragement, creating goals, or reflecting on daily progress can help you to retain more positive thoughts. Writing also creates a productive outlet for you to share your inner thoughts and reflect on your emotions without the fear of judgement or discouragement.

  • Take time for yourself. Engage in activities you enjoy. Calming practices such as Qi Gong, Tai Chi, Yoga and meditation are phenomenal outlets to establish mindfulness of the present moment. Finding productive outlets throughout your day that strengthen your mind, body, and soul will help you to establish a more positive mindset

*Pinto-Gouveia, Ferreira and Duarte (2014) Thinness in the pursuit for social safeness: An integrative model of social rank mentality to explain eating psychopathology. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, 21, 154–165

Kelly, Vimalakanthan and Carter (2014) Understanding the roles of self-esteem, self-compassion, and fear of self-compassion in eating disorder pathology: An examination of female students and eating disorder patients. Eating Behaviors, 15, 388–391

Ferreira, C., Pinto-Gouveia, J., & Duarte, C. (2013). Self-compassion in the face of shame and body image dissatisfaction: Implications for eating disorders. Eating Behaviors, 14, 207–210

Duarte, C., Ferreira, C., Trindade, I. A., & Pinto-Gouveia, J. (2015). Body image and college women’s quality of life: The importance of being self-compassionate. Journal of Health Psychology, 20, 754–764

Homan, K. J., & Tylka, T. L. (2015). Self-compassion moderates body comparison and appearance self-worth’s inverse relationships with body appreciation. Body Image,15

Magnus et al (2010) Magnus, C. M. R., Kowalski, K. C., & McHugh, T.-L. F. (2010). The role of self-compassion in women’s self-determined motives to exercise and exerciserelated outcomes. Self and Identity, 9, 363–382Mosewich, A. D., Kowalski, K. C., Sabiston, C. M., Sedgwick, W. A., & Tracy, J. L. (2011). Self-compassion: A potential resource for young women athletes. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 33, 103–123.

Mosewich, A. D., Kowalski, K. C., Sabiston, C. M., Sedgwick, W. A., & Tracy, J. L. (2011). Self-compassion: A potential resource for young women athletes. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 33, 103–123

Noll, S. M., & Fredrickson, B. L. (1998). A mediational model linking selfobjectification, body shame, and disordered eating. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 22, 623–636

Kristin Neff, K. D. (2003). Self-compassion: An alternative conceptualization of a healthy attitude toward oneself. Self and Identity,

Brach, T. (2003) Radical Acceptance: Embracing your life with the heart of a Buddha. New York: Bantam.

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