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The role of self-compassion in women athletes' body appreciation and intuitive eating : A mixed methods approach



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Despite the many benefits associated with women’s participation in sport, women athletes are often exposed to potential challenges that can negatively affect their athletic experience. The root of many challenges in sport comes from the level of performance expectations and the frequency of evaluations that women face. Self-compassion is a construct informed by positive psychology that can help people manage self-judgment, rumination, and feelings of isolation while promoting a kind and understanding perspective of the self. Further, self-compassion promotes positive self-attitude without the drawbacks associated with self-esteem; however, past research on the role of self-compassion in women athletes’ well-being is limited. This research applies a mixed methods approach to address the role of self-compassion in women athletes’ body appreciation and intuitive eating. The first phase was quantitative and expands on past research by examining how self-compassion relates to, and explains unique variance beyond self-esteem, in women athletes’ body appreciation, intuitive eating, disordered eating, compulsive exercise, and state self-criticism. Participants were 90 women athletes aged between 18 and 27 years, who participated in a variety of sports and competitive levels and completed an online survey. Self-compassion was positively related to women athletes’ body appreciation (r=.68, p< .01) and intuitive eating (r=.53, p< .01), while being negatively related to disordered eating (r=-.59, p< .01), compulsive exercise (r=-.37, p< .01), and state self-criticism (r=-.45, p< .01). Hierarchical regression analysis revealed that self-compassion contributed significant unique variance beyond self-esteem, after controlling for age and BMI (calculated from self-reported weight and height), in women athletes’ body appreciation (4.1%, p<.01), intuitive eating (8.7%, p<.01), disordered eating (9.4%, p<.001), compulsive exercise (8.3%, p<.01), and state self-criticism (7.5%, p<.01). This study supports past research suggesting that self-compassion may be a useful tool for women athletes to manage challenging or difficult experiences in sport, while adding to the literature by highlighting that self-compassion might also play a role in positive sport experiences related to body appreciation and intuitive eating. Six women athletes completed the qualitative phase. Interviews were conducted to explore how self-compassion contributes to women athletes’ experiences of body appreciation and intuitive eating. Three main themes arose from the collective case study. Self-compassion plays a role in body appreciation and intuitive eating by helping women athletes to recognize the uniqueness of sport contexts, through the promotion of awareness, and by helping them to set personalized expectations and standards. Together the quantitative and qualitative phases forward the study of women athletes’ self-compassion, body image, and eating behaviour with a particular focus on positive constructs. As such, the current study provides a foundation to explore other positive psychological constructs and constructs informed by positive psychology and to examine the impact of a self-compassion intervention on women athletes’ body appreciation and intuitive eating.



Women athletes, Self-compassion, Body image, Eating behaviour



Master of Science (M.Sc.)






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