Can self-regulation explain why not everyone is overweight or obese?

Ann Plummer, Iain Walker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives: This study aimed to investigate whether self-regulation and dichotomous thinking might help to explain why some individuals maintain a normal body weight despite living in an obesogenic environment. Design: Cross sectional correlational design. Methods: Young Australians (142 female, 56 male; aged 20-35 years) completed a survey which included the Behavioural Weight Self-Regulation Questionnaire (BEWS-Q), the Dichotomous Thinking in Eating Disorders Scale (Byrne et al., 2008), and the SCOFF eating disorders screening tool (Morgan, 1999). Results: Results regarding self-regulation were opposite to those hypothesised; BEWS-Q scores were positively correlated with maximum lifetime Body Mass Index (BMI), dichotomous thinking, and disordered eating. Marked gender differences emerged throughout, with significant relationships between variables for the females in the sample, but not for the males. Weight pattern across time (e.g., lifelong weight maintainer, or weight cycler) was significantly associated with more variables than was BMI category. Conclusions: A uniform approach to weight management is unlikely to be effective, given the differences between males and females in this study. Also, excessive focus on weight behaviours and eating may be counterproductive to weight management. Weight across time may be more important than current BMI when considering weight management. KEY POINTS What is already known about this topic: (1) Overweight and obesity are global problems, and most Australians are overweight or obese. Although most Australians live in obesogenic environments it is not known why some people maintain normal bodyweight. (2) Self-regulation is the ability to alter one’s behaviour by making purposeful self-corrective adjustments towards a goal or to maintain an achieved goal. This ability may help explain why some people maintain normal bodyweight. (3) Patterns of dichotomous thinking may disrupt weight self-regulation, impeding the ability to make self-corrective adjustments in working towards weight goals. What this topic adds: (1) There were marked gender differences throughout the results, with significant relationships across all variables for females, but not for males. (2) Counter to prediction, weight self-regulation was positively associated with maximum lifetime BMI, dichotomous thinking, and disordered eating. Compared to current BMI, changes in weight pattern across time were associated with more predictors. (3) A uniform approach to weight management is unlikely to be effective.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)326-337
Number of pages12
JournalAustralian Journal of Psychology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jul 2021


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