Dietary Restraint and Overeating
MICHAEL R. LOWE
Dietary restraint may be defined as a self-initiated attempt to restrict food intake for the purpose of weight control. Interest in dietary restraint has increased dramatically during the past 25 years because (1) previously observed differences in the behavior of normalweight and overweight individuals appear to be better explained by co-occurring differences in restrained eating than by weight status; (2) there is concern about possible adverse effects of dieting among normal-weight people (and young women in particular), including the development of eating disorders; (3) the prevalence of obesity has risen rapidly in developed countries, spurring an increase in dietary efforts to counteract it.
This chapter addresses four topics: definitions of restrained eating and dieting; mechanisms of dietary restraint; dietary restraint and eating disorders; and dietary restraint and obesity. (Further discussion of dietary restraint and its significance is included in Chapters 15 and 17.)
It is important to distinguish the meaning ascribed to three interrelated terms used in this chapter: restrained eating (typically measured by one of three restraint scales); dieting (usually measured by single items assessing dieting status); and dietary restraint (a global term that refers to any type of attempted or actual self-imposed food restriction).
During the first decade of research on restrained eating, the construct was assessed with Herman and Polivy’s 10-item Restraint Scale (RS). In a now-classic study, Herman and Mack found that restrained eaters increased, and unrestrained eaters decreased, their icecream consumption after drinking a high-calorie milkshake. The restrained eaters’ response was labeled “counterregulatory eating.” Subsequent studies identified similar dif