Background: Successful weight management involves the regulation of eating behavior. However, the specific mechanisms underlying its successful regulation remain unclear. This study examined one potential mechanism by testing a model in which improved body image mediated the effects of obesity treatment on eating self-regulation. Further, this study explored the role of different body image components.
Methods: Participants were 239 overweight women (age: 37.6 ± 7.1 yr; BMI: 31.5 ± 4.1 kg/m²) engaged in a 12-month behavioral weight management program, which included a body image module. Self-reported measures were used to assess evaluative and investment body image, and eating behavior. Measurements occurred at baseline and at 12 months. Baseline-residualized scores were calculated to report change in the dependent variables. The model was tested using partial least squares analysis.
Results: The model explained 18-44% of the variance in the dependent variables. Treatment significantly improved both body image components, particularly by decreasing its investment component (f² = .32 vs. f² = .22). Eating behavior was positively predicted by investment body image change (p < .001) and to a lesser extent by evaluative body image (p < .05). Treatment had significant effects on 12-month eating behavior change, which were fully mediated by investment and partially mediated by evaluative body image (effect ratios: .68 and .22, respectively).
Conclusions: Results suggest that improving body image, particularly by reducing its salience in one's personal life, might play a role in enhancing eating self-regulation during weight control. Accordingly, future weight loss interventions could benefit from proactively addressing body image-related issues as part of their protocols.