Handbook of Eating Disorders: Physiology, Psychology, and Treatment of Obesity, Anorexia, and Bulimia

By Kelly D. Brownell; John P. Foreyt | Go to book overview

5
The Influence of
Psychological Variables
in Obesity

Ruth Striegel-Moore

Judith Rodin

Numerous attempts have been made to understand obesity from a psychological perspective, but recently the focus has shifted away from unitary explanations (e.g., the "obese personality") to models viewing obesity as multiply determined.150 In this chapter we will review the contribution of psychological research to our understanding of these multiple determinants of obesity. Among the most widely considered are studies evaluating personality factors that may lead to or maintain obesity. Implicit in such approaches is the assumption that overeating is the primary mediating variable in the development of obesity, that is, that psychological variables cause excessive food intake. We will consider evidence on this issue later, but it appears that obese people do not eat more and often eat less than lean persons.199

Isolating the effects of food intake depends, in part, on how overeating is defined. We have argued that overeating is best defined as the degree of food intake that brings in more energy than is needed for an individual.151 This makes overeating a descriptive term, but one that is not definable operationally without characterizing the person's unique genetic, physiological, conditioned, and environmental response to food. Indeed it is difficult to separate the effects of psychological and physiological factors on both the cause and maintenance of obesity precisely because they interact so greatly. In evaluating causal factors, it is often unclear whether obese persons overate to create their obesity initially. But there

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