The Complicated Relationship between Dieting, Dietary Restraint, Caloric Restriction, and Eating Disorders: Is a Shift in Public Health Messaging Warranted?

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2022 Jan 3;19(1):491. doi: 10.3390/ijerph19010491.


The origins of theories specifying dietary restraint as a cause of eating disorders can be traced to the 1970s. This paper will present an overview of the origins of dietary restraint theories and a brief historical review of evidence will be summarized. Recent research will be presented, including the results from the CALERIE Phase 1 study, as well as CALERIE Phase 2, which were NIH-sponsored randomized controlled trials. CALERIE 2 provided a test of the effect of two years of caloric restriction (CR) on the development of eating disorder syndromes and symptoms in comparison to a control group that did not alter eating behavior or body weight. The intervention was effective for inducing a chronic (two-year) reduction in total energy expenditure and increased dietary restraint but did not increase symptoms of eating disorders. The results of this recent investigation and other studies have not provided experimental support for conventional dietary restraint theories of eating disorders. These findings are discussed in terms of potential revisions of dietary restraint theory, as well as the implications for a paradigm shift in public health messaging related to dieting.

Keywords: anorexia nervosa; binge eating; bulimia nervosa; caloric restriction; dietary restraint; dieting; disordered eating; eating disorders; obesity; weight loss.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Caloric Restriction*
  • Diet
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders* / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Public Health