Stress, eating, and weight change : the moderating role of self-compassion.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Science
Rising obesity rates are putting strain on public health systems worldwide. It is therefore important to identify and target high risk periods for weight gain. One such period is the first year of university, where students often gain weight at a significantly higher rate than nonstudents of the same age. Stress is commonly experience by students and has been associated with both weight gain and weight loss in the literature, as well as an unhealthy change in eating behaviours. This thesis used a longitudinal design to examine stress as a risk factor for weight change and eating behaviour change in students during their first year of university and at follow-up two years later. The role of self-compassion was investigated as a potential moderator in this relationship. Results showed that students on average gained 1.61kg across their first year, and an additional 2.58kg from the end of their first year to the end of their third year. Stress was not directly associated with changes in body mass index (BMI), nor with changes in eating behaviour. As predicted, self-compassion significantly moderated the relationship between stress and BMI change: those with low self-compassion and high average stress during their first year gained weight. This moderation effect was not observed for follow-up BMI change, and was not observed for stress and eating behaviour change. These results suggest self-compassion moderates the stress-BMI change relationship while stress is being experienced, thus interventions aimed at reducing weight gain and stress should involve concurrent self-compassion training. Future research should employ experimental designs and self-compassion interventions to further investigate relationships between stress, self-compassion, BMI change, and eating behaviour.