Important Update: Calorie Count will be shutting down on March 15th. Please click here to read the announcement. Data export is available.
subscribe Signup for our Newsletter expand Expand Browser
Calorie Count Blog

A Compassionate Approach to Dieting

By +Diane Petrella on Apr 07, 2011 10:00 AM in Dieting & You

By Diane Petrella, MSW

Many diet plans miss the mark on the emotional needs of dieters. If you struggle with keeping weight off, you probably know that punishing self-criticism can trigger emotional eating. When you make a slip, you may scold yourself, believing you need more self-discipline.  You then slide into a guilt-ridden binge. To stop that cycle, retire from diet boot camp and add some self-compassion to your weight loss plan. 

The Compassionate Approach

The Self-Compassion Diet:  A Step-by-Step Program to Lose Weight with Loving-Kindness, by Jean Fain, MSW, LICSW, a Harvard Medical School affiliated psychotherapist, teaches a compassionate approach to weight loss. Her four step plan includes loving kindness practices, self-hypnosis, mindful eating strategies, and guidance on developing social support. While self-hypnosis and mindful eating are not new, Fain offers a creative toolbox of inspiring exercises.  You also learn why this program works. Each approach is supported by psychological theory and cutting edge research.

If your relationship with food is fraught with anxiety and stress, this book will calm you. Laying the groundwork, Fain applies Buddhist meditation and mindfulness practices to help you cultivate self-compassion. Since I meditate daily, I was inspired to see these powerful tools woven into a diet program.  If you're unfamiliar with these practices, this beautifully written book teaches you, in a simple, easy to follow manner, how to use these approaches to help you stop overeating.

For example, one loving kindness suggestion is a guided visualization whereby you view yourself through a pair of eyeglasses with compassionate lenses. Many dieters have a distorted perception of who they are and what they look like.  This negative self-image often fuels shame induced self-sabotaging behaviors. The 'Compassionate Glasses' visualization gently guides you to see yourself and your body through the eyes of love.  Your weight loss journey becomes much easier when you shift your perspective in this way.

Fain also demystifies self-hypnosis and teaches you short, simple practices to instill positive suggestions to eat more healthfully, develop confidence, and manage challenging situations. For example, the 'Imaginary Triggers' exercise helps you develop solutions to risky situations for overeating. The book also comes in a user friendly audio format to guide you.

The Power of Community

Fain emphasizes the importance of relationship to facilitate your progress. She helps you navigate the many professional and social avenues available for dieters. There's a quiz and writing exercise to assess whether your current weight loss support team is helping you or holding you back. For example, does your “best” friend encourage you to overindulge on a food you want to avoid, or suggest sharing a nutritious meal?

Informative and practical strategies help you develop a winning team, ranging from professional group therapy, self-help groups, on-line communities, or a single trusted friend. I like this emphasis on support, such as offered by the Calorie Count Forums, because it honors a universal human need for positive connection.

Does the Self-Compassion Diet Work?

Whatever plan you're using to release excess weight, adding self-compassion will most likely guarantee success. A 2007 research study at Wake Forest University applied self-compassion strategies to restrictive and guilty eaters. The results indicate that even a mild dose of self-loving thoughts can curb emotional eating.

The Self-Compassion Diet isn't a quick fix. Fain's approach and strategies encourage lasting lifestyle change, essential to sustainable weight loss. If you've been having a hard time losing weight and keeping it off, chances are it's not that you lack self-discipline. You probably just need more self-compassion. Don't worry. This doesn't mean you'll overindulge in unhealthy behaviors; most likely you will begin to indulge yourself with kindness. And when you do that, you naturally will be drawn to foods and choices that reflect back to you the compassion you feel for yourself.

Read Love Your Muffin Top by Jean Fain at Huffpost Living.

Your thoughts....

How will being more self-compassionate help you to release weight and make peace with your body?

Diane Petrella, MSW is a psychotherapist and life coach. She offers her clients a spiritual approach to weight loss and helps them develop a loving, respectful relationship with their bodies. Receive a free copy of Diane’s Seven Easy & Effortless Weight Loss Secrets by signing up for her monthly e-newsletter, Living Lightly, for spiritual insights and tips to release weight with confidence and love.  To contact Diane directly visit her website at


Many thanks for reviewing this title. Metta (loving kindness) is a wonderful practice to uplift one's inner self. I think that applying this to food choices makes perfect sense as many of us tend to bury our discomfort with food. Have loving kindness towards oneself sets the ground work to love and cherish our mental and physical health. When we feel good about ourselves it allows us to flourish and spread those feelings outward too!

Great Article!

I am always so surprised to find out that other people have negative thoughts about themselves, their looks, their will power, etc. No matter how many times I hear it I seem to have forgotten and I am sure I am the only one who is so ....(fill in the blank). I would always encourage another to be kind to him or herself, but I find it extremely difficult. I will have to investigate "The Compassionate Diet." Thanks for the 411. 

Comment Removed

Part of the problem is that we are subjected to instant gratification in this country: Drop 10 pounds in 7 days, take a pill and loose weight overnight, and so forth.  And if you do not become "thin" days after you start your diet it seems like a failure.

My odyssey with weight gain has been one of decades; my waist line expanded ten sizes over 25 years. Now that I'm deciding to cut back on my calories, I realize it will take *time.*  This passing of time as you watch your meals and exercise is a part of mindfulness. 

As the writer mentioned mindfulness is a great it tool--you are aware but without judgment.  As I look back on my food journal I see how many calories I have burned off, and see them as steps towards the next pound lost.

When I do "have to have" something "bad,"(right now McDonald's Fillet O Fish) I just lovingly accept it as part of my body's desires and then plan reduced meals calorie for the next couple of meals.  (Steamed kale and baked potatoes w/ Smart Balance spread is my current favorite after binge meal. It balances out what my body misses most often--carbs and potassium.)

Eating right and exercising is a journey, as was my years of junk food, fast foods, and emotional eating.  My path is now one of healthier choices and even if I pull off for a "bad" meal or two,  I can get right back on the path at the next meal and resume my journey.



Interesting "take" on dieting.  I hope it works for people, I am not an emotional eater so I guess I won't try it.  If it works for you then do it!  I have been eating more strawberries and that seems to fill me up, only 6 calories in a large strawberry.  Yum.  Find what works for you and do it.

As a recovering compulsive (and sometimes binge) eater I can attest to these methods being effective. Although I haven't read the book, many of the strategies mentioned are ones I used to overcome the horrible relationship I had with food. What I learned the most is to stop punishing myself with food. The point of eating after all is to feel better afterwards, not worse.

I will definitely add this book to my collection.

Thanks for reviewing this book!  I will definintely be checking it out.  I think the step-by-step approach to doing this may be what I have been missing in trying to be kind to myself when I have so much weight to lose. 

Diane, thanks again for another great suggestion. I'm especially glad the book is available on audio, which seems to help me approach meditation and visualization practice.

Excellent book review, most methods describe are new to me... It was amazing the way way identify myself with some of the descriptions and I really never thought that I punish myself in such a way.  :) Thanks  I have my book ordered already

Comment Removed

I'm right with you broaster07.

Compassion is in short supply in our society.  Who could not be affected emotionally when our culture celebrates everything with food?  Fundraisers, holidays, family gatherings, promotions, etc.  While I grew up rail thin and was never subjected to the taunts of other children toward fat kids, it doesn't help that I am now in that group.  I too dislike the way obese people look and when I see myself in the mirror or a photograph (damn cell phones nowdays are everywhere!) I have a sense of self-loathing while intellectually knowing that I can only do so much.  Health, hormones, and stress take time to reverse.

I think this book could help a lot of people, and I will explore some of these options to see if a more structured approach will move me more quickly along my journey to a healthier body and slimness.

Comment Removed

Comment Removed

I learned to like myself before I lost weight.  That way I was doing it FOR me, for my health, not just so I could be worthy of love and admiration.  I did it for the self that I finally liked. 

Great review!  I had lost near 200 lbs with self love ,positive thinking and the compassion from members in my TOPS group. After changes in my life I lost the compassion for myself and gained 50lbs back.  Finding this review made my day.I'm worth it.  Off to the bookstore.

Post Your Comment

Join Calorie Count - It's Easy and Free!