Accumulated evidence from longitudinal studies indicated that higher self-compassion levels are associated with greater reductions in eating disorder symptoms over time. However, the nature of these associations is not fully understood. It is possible that these constructs are related in a reciprocal—rather than a unidirectional—fashion, serving to influence each other over time. This study tested for possible longitudinal reciprocal relations between self-compassion and eating disorder symptoms over the course of 8 months.
Participants were community-based adult women who were invited to complete study measures at baseline (T1; n = 3039), 4-month follow-up (T2; n = 1483), and 8-month follow-up (T3; n = 1361). Cross-lagged panel analyses were computed to test for the hypothesized reciprocal relationships.
Evidence for reciprocal, negative associations was found between these constructs. Higher (or lower) self-compassion scores at T1 predicted greater decreases (or increases) in global levels of eating pathology at T2 (β = − 0.06), which in turn predicted further increases (or decreases) in self-compassion at T3 (β = − 0.05). The same pattern emerged when modeling overvaluation with weight and shape as a construct of eating disorder symptoms.
This study established reciprocal longitudinal associations between self-compassion and indices of eating pathology. Incorporating strategies designed to cultivate compassionate ways of responding within established eating disorder prevention programs may help to improve their potency.
This study was not preregistered.