Eating Disorders and Obesity: A Comprehensive Handbook

By Christopher G. Fairburn; Kelly D. Brownell | Go to book overview

15
Experimental Studies of Dieting

JANET POLIVY

C. PETER HERMAN

The ubiquity of dieting in young women (see Chapter 14) has launched a series of experimental investigations into dieting and its effects. Various aspects of behavior and personality have been examined, ranging from the amount eaten by dieters versus nondieters in diverse situations, to their cognitive and/or emotional responses to food and nonfood stimuli, to their personalities and general temperament. Several different questionnaires for determining dieting status have been developed, including Herman and Polivy’s Revised Restraint Scale (RRS), Stunkard and Messick’s Three-Factor Eating Questionnaire (TFEQ, also named the Eating Inventory), and the Dutch Eating Behavior Questionnaire (DEBQ). The first of these scales identifies dieters who cycle between restricting their intake and overeating, whereas the other two scales have separate subscales for dietary restriction and disinhibition or emotional overeating, respectively. In this chapter, the various experimental studies comparing dieters and nondieters are described to determine what, if anything, we can conclude about the effects of chronic dieting. (Further discussion of dieting and its significance is included in Chapters 16 and 17.)


EXPERIMENTAL STARVATION AND NORMAL DIETING

Experimental studies of dieting began with the work of Keys and his colleagues observing conscientious objectors to World War II who agreed to undergo experimental starvation (down to approximately 75% of their initial body weight). The changes described by these volunteers presage to a remarkable extent the subsequent literature describing the behavior of chronic dieters or restrained eaters. For example, the starving conscientious objectors were unable to concentrate, and reported being distractible and thinking more about food. Similarly, dieters are more distractible when performing a task requiring concentration, although they perform better than do nondieters if there are no competing cues. Chronic dieters also tend to think more about food, sometimes to the point of marked preoccupation. Dieters remember more weight- and food-related information

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