Associations among self-compassion, stress, and eating behavior in college freshmen
In the past decade, research has demonstrated the relationship between higher levels of self-compassion and lower levels of negative psychological outcomes. More recently, the concept of self-compassion has been explored within the context of various health behaviors. Very few studies have investigated the potential relationship between self-compassion and eating behaviors. Based on literature and the established relationship between negative self-evaluation and abnormal eating behaviors/eating disorders, the current study sought to examine correlations between self-compassion, eating behaviors, and stress in first time college freshmen. The study population consisted of 1478 participants; ages 18-22 years; females = 936 (63%), males = 541 (37%). Participants self-reported measures of the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS), the Three Factor Eating Questionnaire (TFEQ), and the Self Compassion Scale (SCS). PSS score, the overall score and individual subscale scores of SCS, and the three subscale scores of the TFEQ (restraint, disinhibiton, hunger) were examined with Pearson correlations. Results of this study indicate significant (p = < .05) differences between males and females in PSS and all three negative SCS subscales. There was a strong and consistent correlation between the eating behavior of disinhibition and all three negative constructs of self-compassion (self-judgment, r = .29; isolation, r = .23; over-identification, r = .28) in females. The eating behavior of restraint was similarly correlated with SCS self-judgment in females (r = .26). More research is needed to understand differences in stress, self-compassion, and eating behaviors between males and females and to better comprehend the weak associations between eating behaviors and the positive psychological constructs of self-compassion (self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness) for males and females. Additionally, future research should focus on the three subscales of disinhibition as they relate to the negative constructs of self-compassion. The preliminary results of this study suggest it would be beneficial, particularly to female college freshmen, to more fully understand the dynamics of the relationship between eating behaviors and self-compassion; this knowledge may help to better structure appropriate coping strategies for the prevention of disordered eating behaviors.