Dieting has been the primary approach to addressing problems with excess weight; however, there is a growing body of evidence indicating that not only may dieting be ineffective at facilitating long-term weight loss or weight management, it may actually promote weight gain over time (Neumark-Sztainer et al., 2012).

Consequently, alternative approaches for sustained weight loss or management are required. The ability to regulate overeating has recently been proposed as an alternative to dieting, and reflects resisting overeating without restricting eating to satiety, as is seen in dieting (Herman et al., 2008). Yet, there has been limited examination of the construct of overeating regulation, and it is not well understood what factors may facilitate one’s ability to regulate overeating.

Addressing this gap in the literature, our study examined the demographic and psychological correlates of overeating regulation among a sample of 312 Australian university students, most of whom were female and young adults.

Our results indicated three subscales of overeating regulation. The first subscale, general overeating regulation, represents a general ability to resist overeating. The second subscale, leisure overeating dysregulation, reflects an inability to resist overeating when in contexts of leisure or when presented with desirable foods. The third subscale, discomfort overeating dysregulation, represents an inability to resist overeating when negative emotions or physical pain is experienced. Age was not associated with overeating regulation or dysregulation. 

In contrast, a gender effect was found for general overeating regulation, whereby men reported greater ability than women. Individuals who were better at regulating their overeating generally, and those who reported less overeating dysregulation in contexts of leisure and discomfort, were more mindful, better able to regulate their emotions, and had less disordered eating. We also examined the components of emotion regulation and mindfulness more closely in order to determine which facets may be most important with regard to overeating regulation and dysregulation.

Our results suggest that the most important skills for regulating overeating include emotional awareness, the ability to act with awareness, being able to refrain from instinctively reacting to inner experiences, and being able to pursue goals in the face of difficult emotions.

Full details of this research can be found in the Australian Journal of Psychology.

Kerin, J. L., Webb, H. J., & Zimmer-Gembeck, M. J. (2017). Resisting the temptation of food: Regulating overeating and associations with emotion regulation, mindfulness, and eating pathology. Australian Journal of Psychology. 1-12. doi:10.1111/ajpy.12169

This update was kindly provided by Jessica Kerin, who attended the 2017 National Eating Disorders and Obesity Conference.

View the program for the 2018 National Eating Disorders and Obesity Conference this September here.

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