Many people think self-control is the key to successful dieting and weight loss. But new psychological research suggests "self-compassion" might be the secret to leading happier, healthier lives, and even dieting more effectively. Here, a brief guide.

What exactly is "self-compassion"?
It's growing area of psychological research that centers on how kindly people view themselves. The research suggests that those who go easier on themselves tend to be less depressed and anxious, and more content and optimistic.

How can "self-compassion" help with weight loss?
It helps people motivate themselves to stick to a diet, says Dr. Kristin Neff, the author of an upcoming book called Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind. But, she cautions, it's not to be confused with self-indulgence. It's about being positive rather than critical, which helps people make healthy decisions rather than harmful ones in life and at the refrigerator. "Self-compassion is the missing ingredient in every diet and weight-loss plan,” says Jean Fain, a psychotherapist and the author of the new book The Self-Compassion Diet. "Most plans revolve around self-discipline, deprivation, and neglect."

Is there any research to back this up?
Yes. In a 2007 Wake Forest University study, 84 female college students were asked to eat donuts as part of what they were told was a food-tasting study. Some of the women were then taught about self-compassion and told not to be too hard on themselves for eating the donuts. All of the women were then asked to eat candies from large bowls. Those that had received the message of self-compassion ate less candy than those who hadn't.

Okay, but what do the critics say?
Self-compassion is a bit contradictory, says Dr. Deah Schwartz at Opposing Views. The self-compassion diet seems to be at once about accepting yourself as you are, and trying to lose weight. I wish self-compassion could be about just that, rather than as a means to and end: losing weight. But, I guess "books about self-compassion where the end result is… well…self-compassion" wouldn't be very marketable.

Sources: NY Times, Opposing Views