Intuitive eating: associations with physical activity motivation and BMI

Am J Health Promot. 2015 Jan-Feb;29(3):e91-9. doi: 10.4278/ajhp.130305-QUAN-97.


Purpose: To determine whether university women who demonstrated internal motivation related to eating behavior may also be internally motivated to participate in regular physical activity (PA) and have a lower body mass index (BMI) when controlling for age. Traditional approaches for health promotion related to healthy weight include restrictive eating and exercise prescription. Examining motivation for eating and PA may prove an effective alternative for achieving or maintaining healthy weight for university women.

Design: Design was a cross-sectional study.

Setting: Study setting was a large, public university in the western United States. Subjects . Study subjects were 200 undergraduate women with a mean age of 19 years, mostly white (90%) and of healthy weight (69%, with a BMI range of 18.5-24.9).

Measures: Study measures were the Intuitive Eating Scale and the Behavioral Regulation in Exercise Questionnaire.

Analysis: Correlations and regression models were used. Intuitive eating was examined in the sample as a whole and among subgroups of respondents grouped based on tertile rankings of intuitive eating scores.

Results: There was evidence that women who demonstrated internal motivation related to eating were also internally motivated to participate in regular PA. Women who reported being internally motivated to eat were significantly more likely to engage in PA for pleasure and to view PA as part of their self-concept. Women who reported high levels of intuitive eating had significantly lower BMI scores than those reporting medium or low levels when controlling for age.

Conclusion: For women to achieve or maintain a healthy weight, it may be best for health professionals to examine motivation for eating and PA rather than the encouragement of restrictive eating and exercise prescriptions.

Keywords: Body Mass Index; Exercise Motivation; Health focus: nutrition, fitness/physical activity, weight control; Intuitive Eating; Manuscript format: research; Obesity; Outcome measure: behavioral; Prevention Research; Research purpose: modeling/relationship testing; Self-determination Theory; Setting: school; Strategy: skill building/behavior change; Study design: nonexperimental; Target population age: adults; Target population circumstances: education/income level.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Body Mass Index
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diet / psychology*
  • Exercise / psychology*
  • Feeding Behavior / psychology
  • Female
  • Health Promotion*
  • Humans
  • Motivation*
  • Universities
  • Weight Loss
  • Young Adult