Is Dietary Restraint a Unitary or Multi-Faceted Construct?

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Given that approximately two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese, there is substantial interest in dieting (dietary restraint) to promote weight loss. However, research on the associations between dietary restraint and binge eating is inconsistent. One possible explanation for contradictory findings is that measures of dietary restraint assess heterogeneous constructs. Nonclinical samples of university student (n = 433; 62.6% female) and community-recruited (n = 407; 47.4% female) adults completed self-report measures of dietary restraint. Exploratory structural equation modeling and exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses were used to identify latent dietary restraint factor(s). Structural equation modeling and multiple regression were used to test associations among latent dietary restraint factor(s), body mass index (BMI), eating-disorder risk, binge eating, and psychopathological and personality variables. Three latent dietary restraint factors emerged: (a) Calorie Counting; (b) Preoccupation With Dieting; and (c) Weight-Focused Restraint. The model demonstrated a good fit to the data. Eating-disorder risk was significantly and positively associated with all restraint factors, whereas higher levels of BMI and binge eating were significantly associated with greater Preoccupation with Dieting and Weight-Focused Restraint only. Our findings indicated that dietary restraint is a heterogeneous construct and that measures of restraint assess different aspects of dieting. Our results have important implications for eating and weight disorders treatment, and suggest that weight-loss interventions that do not simultaneously increase negative attitudes toward one’s body may be useful for treating weight disorders, without promoting disordered eating.

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