When and why does female dieting become pernicious? The role of individual differences and partner support in romantic relationships
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
This study investigated the intrapersonal and interpersonal context of female dieting and partner support for dieting in 44 heterosexual couples. Participants completed questionnaires assessing self and relationship functioning, dieting levels and eating disordered attitudes, and weight-loss support frequency and helpfulness, in both a cross-sectional and longitudinal study. As predicted, a) higher levels of unhealthy dieting were significantly related to more negative views of the self (e.g., lower self-esteem), and b) lower perceived levels of support from the partner were significantly related to higher levels of eating-disordered attitudes, anxious attachment, and lower relationship satisfaction. However, testing more complex causal models showed that self-esteem played a pivotal role. First, tests confirmed that the impact of self-esteem on unhealthy dieting was mediated by more disordered attitudes to eating. Second, those with low-self-esteem were much less likely to diet in an unhealthy fashion with more frequent and positive partner support, whereas high self-esteem women were not influenced by the support offered by their partners. These findings did not apply to the frequency of healthy dieting, with the important exception that more frequent partner support encouraged healthier dieting, and they held up when plausible third variables were statistically controlled. The findings suggest that dieting behaviour is influenced both by individual differences and the nature of support in intimate relationship contexts.