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Self-Compassion Leads to Greater Weight Loss, Study Finds

Weight loss is tough, just as any major lifestyle change is difficult, and any fitness or nutrition professional worth their salt will tell you: setbacks are very common!

The Impact of Self-Compassion on Weight Loss Success

Fitness and self-love, at first glance, might seem to be antithetical concepts. Fitness, according to many ‘experts’, is a solely physical phenomenon: it’s about calories in, calories out, macronutrients, time under tension, reps, resistance, muscle fibres and metabolism. It’s simple, they say, and if you can’t do it, you just didn’t try hard enough, right?


A new study published by the Center for Weight, Eating and Lifestyle Sciences (WELL Center) at Drexel University, published in the magazine Appetite, has demonstrated the tangible and lasting effects of self-compassion upon weight loss success. Self-compassion, it found, helps people trying to lose weight to recover quickly from setbacks and encourages greater adherence to their weight loss plans. 

The researchers collected data from a group of 140 participants who were trying to lose weight through a “group-based lifestyle modification program”; “participants responded to surveys on their smartphones multiple times a day to report whether they had experienced a dietary lapse–eating more than they intended, a food they didn’t intend, or at a time they didn’t intend–and the extent to which they were responding to that lapse with self-compassion.” The study found that when people “had more self-compassionate responses to their [setbacks], they reported better mood and self-control over their eating and exercise behavior in the hours following the lapse.” A common fallacy in the fitness world is that if a person is ‘too easy’ on themselves, that he or she will become complacent, lazy, and will ultimately fail to meet their goals. And this couldn’t be further from the truth!

Understanding the Role of Self-Compassion in Overcoming Setbacks

Self-compassion, rather than making one lazy and complacent, leads to greater motivation, improved mood and outlook, and better outcomes on one’s goals. This might seem intuitive, but when you treat yourself kindly, you improve your mood, improve your self-belief, and increase your chances of long-term success. On the other hand, if you beat yourself up and blame yourself for your lack of willpower, you’re unfortunately less likely to want to stick to your goal. An attitude of defeat (“I can’t do it, it’s pointless to try”) will more likely lead to complacency. 

Complacency happens when you stop believing in your ability to achieve your goals and when it appears easier to ‘give in’ to your current circumstances. Self-compassion says: “It’s okay, you messed up but you’ll do better next time.” Weight loss is tough, just as any major lifestyle change is difficult, and any fitness or nutrition professional worth their salt will tell you: setbacks are very common! It is impossible to eat and exercise ‘perfectly’ 100% of the time–and that’s true for everyone, even professional athletes at the top of their game. It’s how you respond to these setbacks that really determines your level of success. 

If you’re a personal trainer or coach, ask yourself: are you showing your client(s) compassion? How are you encouraging your clients to treat themselves compassionately? When your client experiences a setback (and they will!), consider your response. As the professional in the field, a client will often take their cues from you; if you communicate understanding and compassion, your client will be more likely to treat themselves in the same way. As a personal trainer, you have an amazing opportunity to change the way a person thinks about themselves and to strengthen their self-belief. 

Written by Theresa Faulder, Master’s in English, Certified Personal Trainer and Infofit fitness blog writer.

Works Cited

Drexel University. (2024, January 25). Can practising self-compassion help people achieve weight loss goals? ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 22, 2024 from