Motivation and emotion/Textbook/Motivation/Dieting

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Motivation and Dieting[edit]

Epiphany-bookmarks.svg This page is part of the Motivation and emotion textbook. See also: Guidelines.
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Dieting: A sociocultural phenomenon[edit]

Am I Thin Enough Yet?[edit]

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Figure 1. Hollywood's perception of beauty: The 'thin' ideal.

Dieting has become a normative behaviour for women in Western societies in reaction to the increasingly thin standard of beauty endorsed and portrayed by the media (Berel & Irving, 1998). Studies have consistently linked the thin ideal to an increased prevalence in dieting, weight preoccupation, eating disorders (Levine & Smolak, 1996; Berel & Irving, 1998) and body dissatisfaction (Shaw, 1995; Snyder, 1997). Dissatisfaction with one’s appearance has been found to be a central component in the initiation and maintenance of dieting behaviour (Fairburn & Garner, 1988; Heatherton, 1993). Researchers suggest that this sociocultural ideal has led to an unprecedented ‘cult of thinness’, with members spending excessive amounts of time, energy and money purchasing and preparing diet food, counting calories and restricting food intake (Rodin, 1992; Stinson, 2001, p. 3). These individuals contribute to an estimated 30 to 50 billion dollar a year weight loss industry (Gladwell, 1998; Ward & Mann, 2000), yet studies report 95% of these individuals fail at their initial dieting attempts (Garner & Wooley, 1991; Ward & Mann, 2000). This may be due to the abundance of cheap and alluring calorie-dense foods, which create ‘toxic environments’ for those attempting to lose weight (Hill & Peters, 1998; Papies & Hamstra, 2010). Research indicates that the excess availability and visibility of these foods play a critical role in dieters’ difficulties in regulating their own weight; as well as contributing towards the high prevalence of obesity (Hill & Peters, 1998; Papies & Hamstra, 2010); and the vast increases in body mass index seen in most Western nations (Wang & Beydoun, 2007; Nederkoorn, Houben & Hofmann, 2010). In such food-rich environments and under the continuous onslaught of artificially-developed aromas, flavours and colours (Freedman & Barnouin, 2005, p. 17); it is no wonder that the good intentions of dieters are often not sufficient enough to sustain consistent weight loss (Papies & Hamstra, 2010).

Dieting Is Like Holding Your Breath[edit]

Research suggests that dieting is not associated with a lasting reduction in body weight over time (Jeffery et al., 2000; Papies & Hamstra, 2010), but rather results in dieters regaining even more weight than they had initially lost (Mann et al., 2007; Papies & Hamstra, 2010). This may be explained by the pattern of disordered eating to which chronic dieters frequently fall victim. ‘Restrained eating’ is typically characterised by periods of severe food restriction, followed by lapses in restraint (Gorman & Allison, 1995; Papies & Hamstra, 2010). It involves self-regulation and the overriding of a normal biological response through the substitution of a competing response (Baumeister, Heatherton & Tice, 1994; Ward & Mann, 2000). However, many researchers argue that it is this fight against nature which results in weight disregulation and eating disorders among chronic dieters (Fairburn, Marcus & Wilson, 1993; Chernyak & Lowe, 2010). Studies suggest that the more an individual forces their weight down, the more their system will be prone to rebound upward (Dukan, 2010, p. 112). This ‘rebound effect’ posits that the body has evolved to adapt to periods of energy restriction during times of famine and scarcity by reducing its metabolic rate and conserving its fat stores. When a restrained eater eventually succumbs to temptation, the body perceives the food restriction to be over and responds by triggering hunger and inhibiting satiety. In turn, additional fat deposits are stored. This adaptive drive may lead to weight gain for dieters in situations where individuals are sedentary and food and drink are both easily accessible and energy dense; conditions which are typically met in most countries in the world (Cannon, 2005). This is supported by studies suggesting that restrained eaters have higher relative body weights than unrestrained eaters, even when both are within the normal weight range (Lowe, 1984; Chernyak & Lowe, 2010). A history of dieting may, therefore, be more predictive of future weight gain rather than loss (Lowe & Thomas, 2009; Chernyak & Lowe, 2010).

Energy + Direction = Motivation: The Key to Success?[edit]

The abundance of research suggesting that dieting is doomed to failure raises the question as to how a person would ever achieve successful weight loss. Motivation has been ascribed as an underlying mechanism in the difference between success and failure in reaching a goal and has been specifically applied by researchers to dieting behaviour (Klinger & Cox, 2003; Johannessen & Berntsen, 2009). Motivation and the attainment of success or failure are interlinked, as motivation is likely to be either strengthened or weakened by past dieting history. This, in turn, influences an individual’s confidence in their ability to diet successfully and reach their desired goal weight or shape (Bandura, 1997; Johannessen & Berntsen, 2009). Using motivational theory and research, this chapter aims to address the motivations behind dieting behaviour, as well as the types of motivation that influence its success and failure. It will then discuss the strength model in reference to why dieting behaviour frequently fails, as well as employ the Health Action Process Approach to explain the gap between dieter intentions and behaviour. This approach will also highlight how an intervention strategy may be tailored to meet the needs of individual dieters, providing potential strategies to improve diet maintenance and counteract lapses in self-restraint.

Motivations behind Dieting Behaviour[edit]

Self-Discrepancy Theory[edit]

Higgin’s (1987) self-discrepancy theory focuses on multiple representations of the self and the emotional consequences of those self beliefs. Researchers continue to employ this theory in order to explain the relationship between multidimensional aspects of self evaluation and disordered eating behaviour, such as restrained eating (Snyder, 1997). The three aspects of self encompass the ‘actual self’, defined by one’s self-perceived attributes; the ‘ideal self’, describing by one’s aspirations for personal attributes; and the ‘ought self’, defined by the set of attributes one feels an obligation to possess. Ideal and ought selves act as guides or standards against which the actual self is measured. These self guides may be viewed from one’s own standpoint, the standpoint of significant others, or from a general sociocultural perspective (Snyder, 1997). Discrepancies between the actual self and self guides on important dimensions such as physical appearance are associated with negative affective consequences, motivating individuals to reduce this discrepancy (Carver & Scheier, 1981; Heatherton, 1993).

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Figure 2. Self-Discrepancy model illustrating the outcome of actual:ideal and actual:ought discrepancies experienced by restrained eaters.

Actual: Ideal Discrepancies[edit]

Actual: ideal discrepancies are associated with feelings such as unhappiness, disappointment and dissatisfaction. This discrepancy may occur from failure to achieve personal appearance goals (Higgins, 1987; Snyder, 1997). Restrained eaters have been found to be more dissatisfied with their bodies because they are highly focused on potential discrepancies between their current and ideal standards for appearance. Indirect evidence supports this notion, suggesting restrained eaters are more self-focused than unrestrained eaters and rate higher in public self-consciousness (Fenigstein, Scheier & Buss, 1975; Heatherton, 1993). Research suggests that one reason women may feel fat is because they are continuously comparing themselves to others, a habit which requires constant self-monitoring (Striegel-Moore, McAvay & Rodin, 1986; Heatherton, 1993). One study reveals that both restrained eaters and unrestrained eaters share similar perceptions of the ideal body shape, yet restrained eaters are more dissatisfied not only because of their greater self-preoccupation, but due to a larger body size. Discrepancy between current and ideal body shape was found to be highly correlated with body mass index, with consistent evidence suggesting that restrained eaters actually weigh more than unrestrained eaters (Heatherton, 1993). The motivation to diet for women experiencing an actual: ideal discrepancy, thus, appears to stem from a heavier body weight rather than more extreme standards of thinness. Additionally, high levels of aversive self-awareness enhance feelings of unattractiveness and are an important determinant in binge eating, a common by-product of restrained eating. Continuous negative preoccupation with the discrepancy between actual and ideal body shape may eventually produce feelings of self-dislike and increase the likelihood of dietary failure (Heatherton & Polivy, 1992; Heatherton, 1993).

Actual: Ought Discrepancies[edit]

Actual: ought discrepancies are associated with emotions such as anxiety and fear and may occur as a result of failing to meet the sociocultural standard for appearance (Higgins, 1987; Snyder, 1997). A study by Snyder (1997) on a nonclinical sample of college women looked into the personal and sociocultural features of body image concern on different behavioural and emotional symptoms associated with disordered eating. This found that actual: ought discrepancies were specifically associated with feelings of personal inadequacy and alienation from others, independent of other body image concerns. Sociocultural standards were also found to hold greater influence for disordered eating symptoms based on the outcome of failing to achieve the societal standard, rather than in attempts to achieve it.

A study by Heatherton (1993) indicates that motivation to diet among restrained eaters of a normal weight was related to avoiding weight gain or an unfavourable fat identity (Chernyak & Lowe, 2010). These findings provide contradictory evidence to a large body of research which has long argued that societal norms favouring extreme thinness are largely to blame for dieting in non obese women (Chernyak & Lowe, 2010). A drive for thinness in restrained eaters may, therefore, not necessarily reflect a desire to reach a socially prescribed ideal but, instead, reflect a fear of weight gain or becoming fat. Additionally, to the extent that dieting did reflect a motivation to lose weight for those women falling within a normal weight range, it appeared to be only a modest weight loss (Lowe & Levine, 2005; Chernyak & Lowe, 2010). A study by Zellner and colleagues (1989) supports this notion, indicating that only those women scoring high on The Eating Attitudes Test, a measure of eating psychopathology, expressed such extreme standards for thinness as they already endorsed symptoms of more problematic eating behaviour (Heatherton, 1993).

Types of Motivation: Dieting Success and Failure[edit]

Self-Determination Theory[edit]

Self-determination theory focuses on the quality of an individual’s motivation in a given context as well as the environmental influences affecting motivation within these contexts (Deci & Ryan, 1985; Hagger, Chatzisarantis & Harris, 2006). The theory distinguishes between two types of motivation: ‘autonomous motivation’ and ‘controlled motivation’ (Deci & Ryan, 2000; Hagger et al., 2006). Restrained eating is autonomously motivated when individuals experience a sense of personal volition and choice when engaging in this behaviour. Conversely, restrained eaters feel controlled when they believe they are engaging in this behaviour due to external pressure or coercion. The relative degree of autonomy perceived by the individual when engaging in restrained eating is viewed along a continuum of motivation known as the perceived locus of causality. The continuum is characterised by intrinsic motivation and identified regulation, two autonomous types of motivation; as well as external regulation and introjected regulation, two types of controlled motivation (Ryan & Connell, 1989; Hagger et al., 2006).

Autonomous Motivation[edit]

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Figure 3. "Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels" - Kate Moss (2009)

Intrinsic motivation reflects motivation that is driven by an enjoyment in the dieting behaviour itself. For example, a restrained eater might feel pleasure in choosing a healthy snack over junk food. Identified regulation represents an extrinsic form of autonomous motivation and is driven by the pursuit of personally-valued goals. A restrained eater may, therefore, be motivated to diet in order to reach a goal weight or dress size (Hagger et al., 2006).

Studies in the health domain argue that individuals with high levels of autonomous motivation are likely to perceive their dieting behaviour as valuable and personally relevant, as it is in line with their psychological needs (Sheldon, 2002; Hagger et al., 2006). Previous research also links autonomous motivation and perceived competence. As such, individuals are likely to feel more confident in reaching their goals and engaging in subsequent dieting behaviour in order to satisfy their need for competence. Evidence suggests that autonomous motivation leads to a greater tendency for individuals to critically examine the importance of the outcomes of engaging in dieting behaviour. They will be more likely to find dieting-relevant information within their environment which points to the significance of continuing this behaviour. This, in turn, leads to more positive attitudes towards engaging in this behaviour in the future (Hagger et al., 2006).

A study by Hagger and colleagues (2006) found that people were likely to form personal and control-related beliefs regarding their future dieting behaviour based on the perception that such behaviour was autonomously motivated. Both attitudes and perceived behavioural control were necessary for the translation of autonomous motives into dieting intentions, acting as a step towards performing the actual behaviour. Researchers note that a deliberative process such as this may not provide the only explanation as to why individuals engage in dieting behaviour, as it is also susceptible to constructs such as personality (Conner & Abraham, 2001; Hagger et al., 2006).

Controlled Motivation[edit]

Individuals with high levels of controlled motivation will focus on external conditions for their engagement in dieting behaviour. External regulation reflects behaviour that is motivated by contingencies administered by others, such as gaining a reward or avoiding punishment. For example, an individual may engage in dieting behaviour to avoid rejection or be accepted into a popular group of peers. Introjected regulation refers to behaviour that is motivated by contingencies administered by the self. This may be in the pursuit of positive affective states, such as self-worth; or the avoidance of negative affective states, such as guilt or shame (Hagger et al., 2006).

One study assessing a large sample of adolescent females over a five month period found that, in addition to social pressure, controlled motivation was highly predictive of persistence in weight loss dieting. Specifically, highly controlled motivation was associated with more intense dieting behaviours such as the rigid use of extreme weight loss techniques (Hagger et al., 2006). These findings are supported by previous research which link controlled motivation to poorer wellbeing, frequent negative affect, less frequent positive affect and lower overall life satisfaction. These studies emphasise the detrimental outcomes for those employing controlled motivation when engaging in dieting behaviour (Strong & Huon, 1999).

Falling off the Wagon: Why Diets Frequently Fail[edit]

Strength Model[edit]

The ability to attain purposeful control over one’s impulses and abstain from immediate gratification is an adaptive response that enables individuals to engage in goal-directed behaviour and achieve their desired long term outcomes. However, according to the strength model, a capacity-based approach developed by Baumeister and colleagues (1998), self-control is a finite resource that determines an individual’s capacity for control over their dominant responses. Self-control requires strength and energy. When this capacity has been expended through demands on self-control resources over time, an individual will exhibit impaired self-regulatory performance. This process has been termed ‘ego-depletion’ (Hagger, Wood, Stiff & Chatzisarantis, 2010). Depletion has been shown to coincide with increased subjective and physiological exertion, fatigue and task difficulty. Researchers argue that problem behaviours such as chronic dieting stem from self-regulation failure, attributing persistent lapses of self-control to depletion in these finite resources (Baumeister, Heatherton & Tice, 1994; Hagger et al., 2010).

Ego-Depletion and Motivation[edit]

Researchers suggest the effects of self-control resource availability and motivation on task performance may be interactive (Mauraven & Baumeister, 2000; Hagger et al., 2010). As a result of engaging in an initial act of self-control, an individual may view their subsequent attempts of self-control as less important. This is due to the relative demands it would impose on their remaining resources. As such, motivation decreases in an effort to conserve resources. An initial act of self-control may promote successful regulation on an individual’s current behaviour, such as abstaining from dessert when out to lunch with friends. However, this would be at the expense of future acts of self-control, such as avoiding a tempting snack when arriving home. Individuals may be able to overcome this ego-depletion effect and exhibit renewed vigor in their dieting behaviour if given sufficient motivational incentive. This may be through the promise of reward, an increase in task importance (Muraven & Slessareva, 2003; Hagger et al., 2010), or inducing positive affect (Tice et al., 2007; Hagger et al., 2010). Muraven and colleagues found that even when depleted, individuals were still able to perform as well as non-depleted individuals on successive tasks when they were sufficiently motivated. Despite their depleted state, an increase in motivation enabled individuals to access their remaining cognitive resources. This supports the notion that motivation acts as a moderator of the ego-depletion effect and enhances future self-regulatory behaviour (Clarkson, Hirt, Jia & Alexander, 2010).

Ego-Depletion and Perception[edit]

Clarkson and colleagues (2010) assessed perceived versus actual ego-depletion on self-regulatory behaviour. In this study strength was defined as both actual and perceived ability to regulate behaviour. The study used a paradigm in which depleted and non-depleted individuals were provided with feedback that either did or did not provide a situational attribution for their actual availability of resources. Research suggests that people frequently look to situational cues to inform their internal states. Thus, those who were provided with a situational attribution for their consequent state of depletion may perceive themselves as less depleted and perform better on subsequent tasks. Over the course of four experiments, the researchers found that perceived depletion impacted qualitative and quantitative responding at both high and low levels of actual depletion. This implies that perception can override actual resource depletion and subsequently influence behaviour. Depleted individuals, whose perception of their own resource availability was increased, were still able to successfully self-regulate in following tasks. Analogous to motivation, this evidence suggests that situational feedback may act as a second mediator of the ego-depletion effect (Clarkson et al., 2010).

Ego-Depletion and Response Inhibition[edit]

Dual system models comprise two systems: the ‘automatic system’, which influences the direction and strength of one’s motivational drive toward stimuli; and the ‘control system’, which regulates the automatic system. Response inhibition acts as a measure of the capacity of the control system and is typically used in ego-depletion experiments (Hagger et al., 2010). Response inhibition describes an executive function thought to be at the core of impulsive behaviour. This function is needed to overrule impulsive or habitual reactions to stimuli, such as the consumption of calorie-laden foods, so that behaviour may be regulated in accordance with the individual’s long term goals (Logan & Cowan, 1984; Nederkoorn et al., 2010). Studies have found a causal link between ineffective response inhibition and overeating, providing one explanation as to why dieters low in self-regulatory resources may succumb to temptation (Nederkoorn et al., 2010).

Research suggests that when self-control resources are depleted, an individual’s motivational drive will be more central in guiding their behaviour. Consumption of food may, therefore, be predicted by implicit measures of food preferences, such as through the Implicit Association Test. Implicit preferences for specific foods represent a measure of the automatic system and predict consumption more strongly in participants with depleted self-control resources than those with effective self-control mechanisms (Hofmann, 2009; Nederkoorn et al., 2010). This is supported by one study, which suggests that the stronger an individual's implicit preferences for snack food, the greater inhibitory capacity needed to override the impulsive drive to consume such food. For dieters with high implicit preferences, differences in individual inhibitory control were found to be critical in determining self-regulatory success or failure. As such, the study concluded that dieters would overeat when self-control resources were low and automatic preferences for snack food were high (Nederkoorn et al., 2010).

Intervention Approaches[edit]

The Health Action Process Approach[edit]

Health self-regulation refers to a process in which motivation, volition and action are employed to substitute health-compromising behaviours for health-enhancing behaviours such as physical exercise, preventative nutrition and weight control (Leventhal et al., 2001; Schwarzer, 2008). Intention forming is seen as being determined by beliefs and attitudes (Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975; Schwarzer, 2008). As such, traditional models of health behaviour change typically focus on identifying a number of intention predictors such as perceived behavioural barriers, social norms, personal vulnerability or perceived self-efficacy. However, these models fail to address a post-intentional phase in which goals are translated into action, known as the ‘intention-behaviour gap’ (Sheeran, 2002; Schwarzer, 2008). The Health Action Process Approach (HAPA) was developed to rectify the inherent limitations of these models, addressing post-intentional factors such as maintenance and recovery self-efficacy, as well as action and coping planning (Schwarzer, 2008). The HAPA is an implicit stage model which distinguishes between two phases: a pre-intentional motivation phase leading to behavioural intentions; and a post-intentional volition phase leading to actual behaviour. Different patterns of social-cognitive predictors emerge within these two phases and are discussed in accordance with the model below.

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Figure 4 Note. Adapted from Schwarzer, R. (2008). Modeling health behavior change: How to predict and modify the adoption and maintenance of health behaviors. Applied Psychology: An International Review, 57(1), 1-29.

Pre-Intention Motivation Phase[edit]

This phase is characterised by three social-cognitive predictors: ‘risk perception’, ‘outcome expectancies’ and ‘action self-efficacy’. Risk perception is seen as a distal antecedent, setting the stage for contemplation regarding personal competencies and the consequences of engaging in a particular behaviour. For example, an individual might believe themselves to be at risk of heart disease as a result of their size. This might lead to the development of ‘positive outcome expectancies’, such as the belief that dieting will reduce their weight and subsequent risk of heart disease. This thought process is seen as an important step in the motivation phase, as the individual balances the benefits and costs of performing the dieting behaviour. Action self-efficacy describes the development of motivation to act when facing a novel challenging demand (Luszczynska et al., 2006; Schwarzer, 2008). Those high in action self-efficacy will hold positive self-efficacy beliefs about their ability to succeed at the dieting behaviour, typically visualising success and imagining various strategies through which to pursue their goal. However, those low in action self-efficacy will imagine failure, harbour self-doubts about their ability to stick to a diet and delay initiating the behaviour (Schwarzer, 2008).

Post-Intention Volition Phase[edit]

This phase comprises two mediators: ‘maintenance self-efficacy’ and ‘recovery self-efficacy’. Maintenance self-efficacy represents an individual’s positive beliefs about their ability to overcome barriers while maintaining a particular behaviour. This mediator can be broken into ‘action planning’, which describes an individual’s level of subjective planning; and ‘coping planning’, reflecting the degree to which an individual has developed effective strategies based on their anticipation of potential barriers that may arise while adopting and maintaining a behaviour. Recovery self-efficacy enables an individual to resume their behaviour after experiencing a set back. For example, a dieter might succumb to a tempting dessert when out to dinner and fall victim to the ‘abstinence violation effect’; attributing their lapse in restraint to internal, stable and global causes. As such, the dieter dramatises the event and interprets it as a full-blown relapse (Marlatt et al., 1995; Schwarzer, 2008). Those high in self-efficacy, however, attribute this lapse to an external high-risk situation, enabling them to regain control and develop a recovery strategy (Marlatt, 2002; Schwarzer, 2008).

Tailoring an Intervention Strategy[edit]

Within the HAPA model, an intervention strategy may be tailored to an individual according to the particular stage of the model in which they reside. Within the post-intentional volition stage, the model distinguishes between ‘non-intenders’, ‘intenders’ and ‘actors’. In regards to dieting behaviour, non-intenders are seen to benefit from confrontation regarding risk perception and outcome expectancies, thus, learning that engaging in this novel behaviour may lead to positive outcomes, such as weight loss or a decreased risk of disease. Intenders reside within the planning phase of volition and have, thus, already set their goal and moved past this mindset. Intervention would, therefore, focus on converting this dieting intention into action. Actors, or current dieters, may benefit from relapse prevention strategies that enhance recovery self-efficacy skills, as well as help them to anticipate and prepare for high-risk situations in which maintenance of their diet is threatened (Marlatt, 2002; Schwarzer, 2008).

Emotion Regulation Strategies[edit]

Restrained eating requires the constant attention and persistence of a dieter in the face of interfering tasks and emotions. Controlling negative emotions such as boredom, distress, anger, anxiety or misery requires a number of cognitive skills (Schwarzer, 2008). Emotion regulation refers to the efforts undertaken by an individual to influence the experience and expression of their emotions (Gross, 1999; Evers, Stok, de Ridder, 2010). Individuals with poor emotion regulation may be vulnerable to binge eating as they can not properly regulate negative affect. Theorists propose that binge eating may be employed as a maladaptive strategy to distract the individual from a source of distress (Herman & Polivy, 1988; Evers et al., 2010), or to escape negative-self awareness (Evers et al., 2010). Negative emotion, thus, acts as a release condition for binge eating; creating an automatic tendency for dieters to overeat whenever a negative emotional event arises. This automatic reflex may be avoided by preparing a course of action toward these situations (Eder, Rothermund & Proctor, 2010). Research has found that adaptive emotion regulation strategies, identified within the HAPA model as ‘coping planning’, provide a means through which a dieter can learn to control their behavioural responses whenever negative affect is encountered. This, in turn, prevents relapse.

Antecedent strategies of emotion regulation are employed before the emotion reaction tendency has become fully activated, thus, changing behavioural responding (Gross & John, 2003; Evers et al., 2010). Studies on cognitive reappraisal have shown it to be an effective antecedent strategy that may be employed by restrained eaters during daily life (Gross & John, 2004; Evers et al., 2010), helping them to anticipate and prepare for potentially high-risk emotional situations in which overeating may occur (Schwarzer, 2008). Cognitive reappraisal works through changing the way an individual thinks about the emotional situation, in turn, providing psychological distance from its aversive affects and altering the situation’s emotional impact (Mischel & Ayduk, 2004; Evers et al., 2010). One study found reappraisal to be related to less negative emotional expression and experience, less physiological activation and more positive emotional experiences (Gross, 2002; Evers et al., 2010). Additionally, it was found to affect the intake of comfort food and protect against emotional eating. This research illustrates that it is not the experience of emotions themselves but, rather, the ability to regulate such emotional experiences that determines emotional eating behaviour. Emotion regulation strategies such as cognitive reappraisal, therefore, provide a means through which this behaviour may be potentially controlled or even eliminated (Ever et al., 2010).

Are you an emotional eater? Take the test to find out.


Dieting is a maladaptive behaviour that often results in an individual gaining more weight than they had initially lost (Mann et al., 2007; Papies & Hamstra, 2010). Motivation has been deemed a crucial component underlying this behaviour, often shaping a diet’s success or failure (Klinger & Cox, 2003; Johannessen & Berntsen, 2009). Self-discrepancy theory describes the conflict between an individual’s actual self and self guides on dimensions such as weight and appearance. When an individual fails to meet their personal standard or an external ideal, this will result in negative affect and an increased motivation to diet in order to reduce this discrepancy (Heatherton, 1993).

Self-determination theory distinguishes between two types of motivation that determine whether a diet may succeed or fail. Autonomous motivation represents an intrinsic form of motivation and enhances a dieter’s chance of success, while controlled motivation represents an external form of regulation and is detrimental to dieting behaviour (Hagger et al., 2006). The strength model presents one explanation as to why dieters frequently succumb to temptation, proposing that self-control is a finite resource that, once depleted, will result in impaired self-regulatory performance. This ego-depletion effect has been linked to a number of moderators including motivation (Mauraven & Baumeister, 2000), perception (Clarkson et al., 2010) and response inhibition (Nederkoorn et al., 2010). The Health Action Process Approach bridges the gap between intentions and behaviour by addressing post-intentional factors that enhance diet maintenance and recovery. This model also addresses potential intervention strategies for dieters based on which stage within the model they reside; distinguishing between non-intenders, intenders and actors (Schwarzer, 2008). Additionally, cognitive reappraisal is proposed as an emotion regulation strategy to counteract emotional eating. It asserts that changing the way an individual perceives an emotional event will change its emotional impact, thereby, eliminating the need to overeat whenever this aversive situation is encountered (Evers et al., 2010).

See also


Berel, S., & Irving, L. M. (1998). Media and disturbed eating: An analysis of media influence and implications for prevention. The Journal of Primary Prevention, 18(4), 415-427.

Cannon, G. (2005). Letter to the editor: Dieting. Makes you fat? British Journal of Nutrition', 93, 569-570.

Chernyak, Y., & Lowe, M. R. (2010). Motivations for dieting: Drive for thinness is different from drive for objective thinness. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 119(2), 276-281.

Clarkson, J. J., Hirt, E. R., Jia, L., & Alexander, M. B. (2010). When perception is more than reality: The effects of perceived versus actual resource depletion on self-regulatory behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98(1), 29-46.

Dukan, P. (2010). The Dukan Diet. London, Great Britain: Hodder & Stoughton.

Eder, A. B., Rothermund, K., & Proctor, R. W. (2010). The prepared emotional reflex: Intentional preparation of automatic approach and avoidance tendencies as a means to regulate emotional responding. Emotion, 10(4), 593-598.

Evers, C., Marijn Stok, F., & de Ridder, D. T. D. (2010). Feeding your feelings: Emotion regulation strategies and emotional eating. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 36(6), 792-804.

Freedman, R., & Barnouin, K. (2005). Skinny Bitch. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Running Press.

Hagger, M. S., Chatzisarantis, N. L. D., & Harris, J. (2006). The process by which relative autonomous motivation affects intentional behaviour : Comparing effects across dieting and exercise behaviors. Motivation & Emotion, 30, 307-321.

Hagger, M. S., Wood, C., Stiff, C., & Chatzisarantis, N. L. D. (2010). Ego depletion and the strength model of self-control: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 136(4), 495-525.

Heatherton, T. F. (1993). Body dissatisfaction, self-focus, and dieting status among women. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 7(4), 225-231.

Johannessen, K. B., & Berntsen, D. (2009). Motivation for weight loss affects recall from autobiographical memory in dieters. Memory, 17(1), 69-83.

Nederkoorn, C., Houben, K., & Hofmann, W. (2010). Control yourself or just eat what you like? Weight gain over a year is predicted by an interactive effect of response inhibition and implicit preference for snack foods. Health Psychology, 29(4), 389-393.

Papies, E. K., & Hamstra, P. (2010). Goal priming and eating behavior: Enhancing self-regulation by environmental cues. Health Psychology, 29(4), 384-388.

Schwarzer, R. (2008). Modeling health behavior change: How to predict and modify the adoption and maintenance of health behaviors. Applied Psychology: An International Review, 57(1), 1-29.

Snyder, R. (1997). Self-discrepancy theory, standards for body evaluation, and eating disorder symptomatology among college women. Women & Health, 26(2), 69-84.

Stinson, K. (2001). Women and dieting culture: Inside a commercial weight loss group. Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Strong, K. G., & Huon, G. F. (1999). Controlled motivation and the persistence of weight-loss dieting. European Eating Disorders Review, 7, 136-146.

Ward, A., & Mann, T. (2000). Don’t mind if I do: Disinhibited eating under cognitive load. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78(4), 753-763.