Stress has been linked to high-fat and high-sugar food consumption. Self-compassion is associated with better emotional and physiological responses to stress. The current study explored whether trait self-compassion or induced state self-compassion could improve dietary choice and food craving after a stress induction.
Fifty-three university students completed an online survey assessing self-compassion, eating restraint, and general perceived stress before attending a laboratory visit. In the laboratory, participants were randomised to a neutral writing control or a self-compassion letter writing condition before a stress induction. Measures of heart rate, heart rate variability, state self-compassion, dietary choice, and state food cravings were taken.
The brief self-compassion intervention did not sufficiently increase state self-compassion in the intervention group compared to the neutral writing condition. There was no effect of the written self-compassion intervention on heart rate, heart rate variability, dietary choice, or food craving. However, higher trait self-compassion was associated with healthier dietary choices (F(1, 49) = 5.35, p = .025, R2 = .098).
Results suggest that higher trait self-compassion improved dietary choice after stress in a controlled environment in a university population. Further research is warranted to explore whether brief self-compassion interventions can improve state self-compassion and thereby influence dietary choices and food cravings after a stress induction.