Autonomy support and control in weight management: what important others do and say matters

Br J Health Psychol. 2014 Sep;19(3):540-52. doi: 10.1111/bjhp.12054. Epub 2013 Jun 10.


Objectives: Drawing from self-determination theory (Ryan & Deci, 2002, Overview of self-determination theory: An organismic-dialectical perspective. In E. L. Deci & R. M. Ryan (Eds.), Handbook of self-determination research (pp. 3-33). Rochester, NY: The University of Rochester Press.), we examined how individuals' psychological needs, motivation, and behaviours (i.e., physical activity and eating) associated with weight management could be predicted by perceptions of their important others' supportive and controlling behaviours.

Methods: Using a cross-sectional survey design, 235 participants (mean age = 27.39 years, SD = 8.96 years) completed an online questionnaire.

Results: Statistical analyses showed that when important others were perceived to be more supportive, participants reported higher levels of more optimal forms of motivation for weight management, which in turn predicted more physical activity and healthy eating behaviours. In contrast, when important others were perceived to be controlling, participants reported higher levels of less optimal forms of motivation, which in turn predicted less physical activity and healthy eating behaviours, as well as more unhealthy eating behaviours. Significant indirect effects were also found from perceived support and control from important others to physical activity and eating behaviours, all in the expected directions.

Conclusions: The findings support the importance of important others providing support and refraining from controlling behaviours in order to facilitate motivation and behaviours conducive to successful weight management.

Statement of contribution: What is already known on this subject? Autonomy support is related to basic need satisfaction and autonomous motivation in the context of weight management. In turn, these variables are related to adaptive outcomes for weight management. What does this study add? Measurement of perceived controlling behaviours by important others. Measurement of perceived need thwarting. Structural model on how important others affect weight management behaviours of the individual.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diet, Reducing / psychology*
  • Factor Analysis, Statistical
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motivation*
  • Overweight / diet therapy
  • Overweight / psychology*
  • Personal Autonomy*
  • Psychological Theory
  • Social Control, Informal*
  • Social Support*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult