IMPACTS OF A BRIEF, PILOT SELF-COMPASSION PROGRAM FOR WOMEN WITH OVERWEIGHT/OBESITY AND INTERNALIZED WEIGHT BIAS
Internalization of weight bias occurs when one believes negative weight-related stereotypes to be true of themselves, such as believing that one is deserving of disrespect, or unworthy of partnership due to weight status (Durso & Latner, 2008). Higher levels of internalized weight bias (IWB) are strongly associated with a range of negative consequences, such as lower health-related quality of life (Latner, Barile, Durso, & O'Brien, 2014), maladaptive eating patterns, lower self-esteem, body image concerns, and greater psychopathology (i.e., stress, anxiety, and depressive symptoms), and has been shown to uniquely contribute to harmful outcomes, above and beyond other risk factors such as body mass index (BMI; Durso & Latner, 2008). Women who are overweight may be at greater risk for harmful consequences due to additional sociocultural factors (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997; Moradi & Huang, 2008). The shame of not living up to a pervasive societal ideal for a woman’s body, culminated with the widespread impacts of weight stigma, may increase the importance for identifying and fostering protective factors in this population (Moradi & Huang, 2008; Tylka & Hill, 2004). Although the importance of reducing IWB has been well documented for improving the well-being of individuals with overweight and obesity (e.g., Tylka et al., 2014), effective interventions for reducing IWB and associated variables are limited. Self-compassion may be a valuable psychological resource that may protect against the impacts of weight stigma, and may be especially important for women with overweight/obesity and IWB (Hilbert et al., 2015; Webb & Hardin, 2016). Therefore, a brief, 3-week self-compassion intervention, which was modeled after an existing intervention piloted with college women (Smeets et al., 2014), was implemented to examine the potential impacts of self-compassion training in this population. Specifically, the domains of IWB, self-compassion, body image, eating behavior, and psychological symptoms were explored. Participants included 13 women (comprised of both faculty/staff and students) with overweight/obesity and high IWB. Paired samples t-tests were employed to examine changes in self-compassion, IWB, body image shame, body appreciation, intuitive eating, uncontrolled and emotional eating, and psychological symptoms following the intervention. Intuitive eating and body appreciation scores increased significantly with large effect sizes following the intervention. While not statistically significant, self-compassion increased, and uncontrolled and emotional eating decreased with small to medium effect sizes. Further, 100% of participants indicated they would recommend the program to other women who struggle with weight/self-image. Findings from this pilot intervention study demonstrated that women with overweight/obesity and IWB reported improvements in domains of functioning associated with IWB— such as eating behavior and body image, following a brief self-compassion intervention. Results suggest that self-compassion practices may hold promise for increasing body appreciation and adaptive eating behaviors in a population of women who may be especially vulnerable to consequences associated with weight stigma/IWB.
East Carolina University