"Restrained eating" vs "trying to lose weight": how are they associated with body weight and tendency to overeat among postmenopausal women?

J Am Diet Assoc. 2009 May;109(5):890-3. doi: 10.1016/j.jada.2009.02.009.


In an effort to control body weight, many women diet or adopt a restrained approach to eating. Although common, dieting and dietary restraint remain poorly understood. Clarification of their association with health-related factors, such as body weight and overeating, is required. In this study, we explored how dieting and dietary restraint were associated with body mass index (BMI; calculated as kg/m2) and disinhibition (tendency to overeat) in a sample of 1,071 postmenopausal women aged 45 to 75 years. In a survey of dietary attitudes and body image, we asked about current dieting status and measured restrained eating and disinhibition. Self-reported height and weight were used to calculate BMI, which was confirmed in a subset. Participants were classified by dieting status (yes/no) and level of dietary restraint (high/low by median split).We examined the independent effects of dieting and restrained eating on BMI and disinhibition. More than half of the sample (53%) reported current dieting. Dieting and dietary restraint showed opposite associations with BMI. Among dieters, BMI was 4.1 higher (95% confidence interval: 3.6 to 4.6) than among nondieters. In contrast, BMI of restrained eaters was 1.0 lower (95% confidence interval: -1.6 to -0.5) than unrestrained eaters. Dieters had higher scores for disinhibition, but disinhibition scores of restrained eaters did not differ from those of unrestrained eaters. Our results suggest that dieting and dietary restraint are not equivalent. Finding that dietary restraint is associated with lower BMI (when considered independently of dieting) suggests that restrained eating, rather than dieting, may contribute to successful weight management.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Attitude to Health
  • Body Image
  • Body Mass Index
  • Body Weight / physiology
  • Diet, Reducing / psychology*
  • Energy Intake / physiology*
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology
  • Feeding Behavior / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inhibition, Psychological*
  • Middle Aged
  • Postmenopause
  • Surveys and Questionnaires