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Effects of dieting history saliency on self-esteem and perceived body image in college women.

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DOI: 10.1016/j.appet.2007.03.024


Body image dissatisfaction and low self-esteem are central factors in developing eating disorders. Experimentally induced dieting failures lead to decreases in self-esteem, which may make subsequent restraint efforts more difficult. To the extent that this is a cognitively mediated process, an introspective review on one's attempts at dieting (and failures) could decrease self-esteem and increase body image dissatisfaction. To evaluate this hypothesis, 64 college women first reported their perceived body size and completed a measure of self-esteem. Two weeks later, they completed measures assessing food- and weight-related issues (restraint, disinhibition, hunger, body image dissatisfaction, drive for thinness, and dieting history/success). Immediately afterwards, they again reported their perceived body size and self-esteem. Self-esteem was decreased by making dieting history salient ( p=0.06). Women also reported slightly larger body sizes after being queried of their dieting history (mean increase=3%), but the difference was not statistically significant. Changes in perceived body size, however, were significantly associated with changes in self-esteem, as indicated by repeated-measures ANCOVA ( p<0.05). Additionally, change in self-esteem was negatively correlated with change in perceived body size ( p<0.05). Further analysis revealed that the number of diets women reported was associated with larger perceptions of body image over time ( â=.375, p=0.057), and the incongruence between women's actual-ideal weights co-varied with the number of dieting attempts ( â=0.46, p=0.02). Finally, self-esteem change significantly predicted body image change, ( â=−0.26, p=0.02.). The results suggest that thinking of diet history and eating introduces subtle negative challenges to self-esteem that may thwart efforts at dietary restraint, or contribute to other eating-disorder relevant cognitive processes. Supported by Amherst College.

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