Improve Adolescent’s Self-Compassion and Reduce Emotional Eating with Mindful Parenting

Improve Adolescent’s Self-Compassion and Reduce Emotional Eating with Mindful Parenting


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


Interestingly, parents who simply had higher trait mindfulness did not see significantly better outcomes for their kids, suggesting that being mindful and being a mindful parent may be two different things.” – Jill Suttie


Raising children, parenting, is very rewarding, but it can also be challenging. Children test parents frequently. They test the boundaries of their freedom and the depth of parental love. These challenges require that the parents be able to deal with stress, to regulate their own emotions, and to be sensitive and attentive their child. These skills are exactly those that are developed in mindfulness training. It improves the psychological and physiological responses to stress. It improves emotion regulation. It improves the ability to maintain attention and focus in the face of high levels of distraction. Mindful parenting involves the parents having emotional awareness of themselves and compassion for the child and having the skills to pay full attention to the child in the present moment, to accept parenting non-judgmentally and be emotionally non-reactive to the child.


Obesity has become an epidemic in the industrialized world. In the U.S. the incidence of obesity, defined as a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or above has more than doubled over the last 35 years to currently around 35% of the population, while two thirds of the population are considered overweight or obese (BMI > 25). Sadly, children and adolescents have not been spared with 1 in 5 school age children and young people (6 to 19 years) classified as obese. This can be particularly troubling to adolescents who are very sensitive regarding their bodies and appearance and can be the victim of ridicule or shaming by peers.


One helpful method to reduce intake and help to control body weight is mindful eating. It involves paying attention to eating while it is occurring, including attention to the sight, smell, flavors, and textures of food, to the process of chewing and may help reduce intake. Indeed, high levels of mindfulness are associated with lower levels of obesity and mindfulness training has been shown to reduce binge eating, emotional eating, and external eating. In addition, mindfulness has been shown to improve the individual’s ability to respond adaptively to emotions. Hence, mindfulness may be an antidote to emotional eating. It is not known if mindful parenting can reduce emotional eating in adolescents.


In today’s Research News article “Is Mindful Parenting Associated With Adolescents’ Emotional Eating? The Mediating Role of Adolescents’ Self-Compassion and Body Shame.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: ), Gouveia and colleagues recruited parent-adolescent dyads of mother or father and their 12-18 year old adolescent. The parents were measured for body size and mindful parenting. The adolescents were measured for body size, self-compassion, body shame, and emotional eating. The dyads were separated based upon the Body Mass Index (BMI) of the adolescents into normal weight and overweight and obese (BMI > 85th percentile) groups. They then performed a regression analysis of the data.


They found that the best fitting model of the data indicated that mindful parenting of the adolescents by the parents was associated indirectly with reduced emotional eating by the adolescents. The indirect path indicated that mindful parenting was associated with increased adolescent self-compassion which was in turn associated both with reduced emotional eating and reduced feelings of shame concerning their bodies which in turn was associated with reduced emotional eating. They also found that the facet of mindful parenting that was most associated with the benefits was the parents’ compassion for the child.


These results are correlational, so no conclusions regarding causation can be inferred. The results, however, are suggestive that the parents’ compassion for the child affects the child’s feelings of compassion toward itself which helps the child overcome feeling of shame about its body, all of which contribute to reduced eating in response to emotions. It remains for future research to determine if promoting parental compassion toward the adolescent may cause positive change in the adolescent, improving self-compassion, reducing body shame, and in turn reducing emotional eating.


So, improve adolescent’s self-compassion and reduce emotional eating with mindful parenting.


“Mindful parenting means that you bring your conscious attention to what’s happening, instead of getting hijacked by your emotions. . . It’s about accepting whatever is going on, rather than trying to change it or ignore it. Being a mindful parent means that you pay attention to what you’re feeling. It does not mean that you will not get angry or upset. Of course you will feel negative emotions, but acting on them mindlessly is what compromises our parenting.” – Parent Co

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ and on Twitter @MindfulResearch


Study Summary


Gouveia MJ, Canavarro MC and Moreira H (2018) Is Mindful Parenting Associated With Adolescents’ Emotional Eating? The Mediating Role of Adolescents’ Self-Compassion and Body Shame. Front. Psychol. 9:2004. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02004


This study aimed to explore whether parents’ mindful parenting skills were associated with adolescents’ emotional eating through adolescents’ levels of self-compassion and body shame. The sample included 572 dyads composed of a mother or a father and his/her child (12–18 years old), with normal weight (BMI = 5–85th percentile) or with overweight/obesity with or without nutritional treatment (BMI ≥ 85th percentile) according to the WHO Child Growth Standards. Parents completed self-report measures of mindful parenting (Interpersonal Mindfulness in Parenting Scale), and adolescents completed measures of self-compassion (Self-Compassion Scale-Short Form), body shame (Experience of Shame Scale), and emotional eating (Dutch Eating Behavior Questionnaire). Two path models, one with the total score for mindful parenting and the other with its dimensions, were tested in AMOS. Mindful parenting, specifically the dimension of compassion for the child, was indirectly associated with emotional eating through adolescents’ self-compassion (point estimate = −0.27, p = 0.03, CI 95% [−0.61, −0.06]) and through self-compassion and body shame sequentially (point estimate = −0.19, p = 0.03, CI 95% [−0.37, −0.05]). The path model was invariant across weight groups but not across adolescents’ sex (the indirect effects were significant among girls only). This study provides a novel comprehensive model of how mindful parenting, especially the dimension of compassion for the child, can be associated with adolescents’ emotional eating behaviors by suggesting a potential sequence of mechanisms that may explain this association. This study suggests the beneficial effect of both mindful parenting and adolescents’ self-compassion skills for adolescent girls struggling with feelings of body shame and emotional eating behaviors.


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