Dieting, exercise, and intuitive eating among early adolescents

Eat Behav. 2013 Dec;14(4):529-32. doi: 10.1016/j.eatbeh.2013.06.014. Epub 2013 Jul 2.


Dieting to lose weight, with its focus on restriction of caloric intake, may disrupt intuitive eating processes, though other forms of weight loss, such as exercising, which do not emphasize food may not. In a sample of 669 middle school boys and 708 girls, regardless of sex or exercising, dieting was related to feeling less free to eat what was wanted and to eating more to soothe emotions than to satisfy actual physical hunger. Exercising, independent of dieting, was associated with feeling less permission to eat what was wanted, but also eating to satisfy physical hunger as opposed to coping with emotional distress. Overall, girls were more aware and trusting of their bodily hunger and satiety cues than boys, but when boys were exercising, they scored similarly to girls on this dimension. These findings suggest that different weight loss approaches - dieting vs. exercising - have unique relationships to young adolescents' intuitive eating and these associations tend to be stable across sex. Longitudinal studies now are needed to examine how dieting that begins in childhood or early adolescence might have long-term effects on the progression of intuitive eating.

Keywords: Adolescence; Body mass index; Dieting; Exercising; Intuitive eating.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior / psychology*
  • Awareness
  • Caloric Restriction / psychology*
  • Child
  • Cues
  • Emotions
  • Exercise / psychology*
  • Feeding Behavior / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hunger
  • Intuition*
  • Male
  • Sex Factors
  • Weight Loss