, Volume 10, Issue 12, pp 2716–2723 | Cite as

Self-Compassion and Eating Pathology in Female Adolescents with Eating Disorders: The Mediating Role of Psychological Distress

  • Rachelle PullmerEmail author
  • Shannon L. Zaitsoff
  • Jennifer S. Coelho



A burgeoning literature demonstrates that self-compassion has widespread implications for numerous mental health problems, with recent research highlighting the role of self-compassion in body dissatisfaction and eating pathology. The primary purpose of this study was to investigate the relations between self-compassion, psychological distress, and eating pathology in a clinical sample of female adolescents. In addition, this study examined whether psychological distress emerged as a cross-sectional mediator of the relation between self-compassion and eating pathology.


Fifty-eight female adolescents with eating disorders (Mage = 15.45; SD = 1.49) completed the Self-Compassion Scale (SCS), Hopkins Symptom Checklist (SCL-5), and Eating Disorder Examination Questionnaire - Adolescent Version (EDE-Q).


The SCS positive items (referred to as self-compassion) were negatively associated with psychological distress and eating pathology. The SCS negative items (referred to as self-criticism) were positively associated with psychological distress and eating pathology (all ps < .001). Notably, psychological distress mediated the link between self-compassion and eating pathology (ab = − 0.39, 95% percentile bootstrap confidence interval (PB CI): −0.78 to −0.09). Psychological distress also mediated the relation between self-criticism and eating pathology (ab = 0.30, 95% PB CI: 0.05 to 0.68).


This study supports the notion that interventions focused on increasing self-compassion and decreasing psychological distress may have important implications for eating disorder recovery in youth.


Self-compassion Self-criticism Psychological distress Eating disorders Adolescents 



We would like to thank Dr. Alexander Chapman, Dr. Allison Kelly, and Dr. Brent McFerran for their involvement and feedback on Rachelle Pullmer’s dissertation. Thanks are also due to Sarah Anderson, Avarna Fernandes, and Janet Suen for their role in recruitment and data collection, as well as to the patients who participated in this study.

Author Contributions

RP: designed the study, conducted data analyses, and wrote the paper. SLZ: collaborated with the design and editing of the final manuscript. JSC: oversaw execution of the study, and collaborated with the design and editing of the final manuscript.

Funding Information

This paper is based, in part, on Rachelle Pullmer’s doctoral dissertation and was conducted in the context of a larger study funded by the Mental Health and Concurrent Disorders Clinical and Translational Research Seed Grant from the Provincial Health Services Authority/British Columbia Children’s Hospital Research Institute (Principal Investigators: Dr. Shannon Zaitsoff and Dr. Jennifer Coelho; Clinical Trainee: Rachelle Pullmer) and Dr. Shannon Zaitsoff’s Departmental Research Grant (Simon Fraser University). The Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship, awarded to Rachelle Pullmer from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, also supported this project.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

This study was approved by Simon Fraser University and The University of British Columbia/Children’s and Women’s Health Centre of BC, and was therefore performed in accordance with the ethical standards laid down in the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its later amendments.

Statement of Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained for all participants prior to their inclusion in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologySimon Fraser UniversityBurnabyCanada
  2. 2.British Columbia Children’s HospitalVancouverCanada
  3. 3.University of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada

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