The impact of shame, self-criticism and social rank on eating behaviours in overweight and obese women participating in a weight management programme

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Abstract

Recent research has suggested that obesity is a stigmatised condition. Concerns with personal inferiority (social rank), shame and self-criticism may impact on weight management behaviours. The current study examined associations between social comparison (shame, self-criticism), negative affect and eating behaviours in women attending a community based weight management programme focused on behaviour change. 2,236 participants of the programme completed an online survey using measures of shame, self-criticism, social comparison, and weight-related affect, which were adapted to specifically address eating behaviour, weight and body shape perceptions. Correlation analyses showed that shame, self-criticism and social comparison were associated with negative affect. All of these variables were related to eating regulation and weight control (p < 0.001). Path analysis revealed that the association of shame, hated-self, and low self-reassurance on disinhibition and susceptibility to hunger was fully mediated by weight-related negative affect, even when controlling for the effect of depressive symptoms (p < 0.050 to p < 0.010). In addition, feelings of inadequacy and unfavourable social comparisons were associated with higher disinhibition and susceptibility to hunger, partially mediated through weight-related negative affect (p = 0.001). These variables were negatively associated with extent of weight loss during programme attendance prior to the survey, while self-reassurance and positive social comparisons were positively associated with the extent of weight loss prior to the survey (p <.050). Shame, self-criticism, and perceptions of inferiority may play a significant role in self-regulation of eating behaviour in overweight people trying to manage their weight.

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Duarte, C., Matos, M., Stubbs, R. J., Gale, C., Morris, L., Gouveia, J. P., & Gilbert, P. (2017). The impact of shame, self-criticism and social rank on eating behaviours in overweight and obese women participating in a weight management programme. PLoS ONE, 12(1). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0167571

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