Exploring the food beliefs and eating behaviour of successful and unsuccessful dieters
Background: Cognitions about food are important but relatively unexplored determinants of eating behaviour. In order to alter nutrient intakes at an individual or population level, an understanding of the way in which food is viewed is essential for anyone working in nutrition. The Repertory Grid Technique, a psychological device for examining how people construe their lives, was used to examine food beliefs in women who had dieted.Methods: Twenty-six women were selected from 62 respondents on the basis of their past weight loss to form two groups, successful and unsuccessful dieters. Participants completed a background questionnaire on their weight history and eating style, a 7-day food record and a specially devised repertory grid using foods as the grid elements.Results: Results showed that the groups differed in their eating style and energy intake. The successful dieters had a lower energy intake but consumed a significantly higher percentage of energy from protein. They also had a higher level of dietary restraint and a more regular eating pattern than the unsuccessful dieters. Both groups held similar and complex food belief systems but differed in their perception of what foods were good tasting. The successful dieters appeared not only to hold complex and rigid beliefs about food but to extend this to their actual eating behaviour.Conclusions: These findings highlight the importance of cognitive factors in the control (and loss of control) of eating and illustrate the potential of the Repertory Grid Technique for use in the field of nutrition.
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