Psychological contributions to eating in overweight and obese adults: the role of love attitudes and attachment



There is thorough evidence regarding the increase in the international level of obesity. A great deal of research attention has focused on programs, strategies and public health campaigns aimed at assisting people to reduce weight, however research has identified that only 20% of people who lose weight through dieting maintain this weight loss for more than 12 months. Indeed the more time that lapses between the end of a diet and follow-up periods, the more weight is regained (Mann et al., 2007). Goodspeed Grant’s (2008) recent study involved investigating the psychological, cultural and social contributions to overeating in obese people. She found that eating for comfort for the morbidly obese is rooted in using food to manage experiences of emotional pain and difficult family and social relationships. Her participants reported that what had been missing from all treatment programs they had tried was the “opportunity to work on the psychological issues concurrently with weight loss”. Of interest in this study of overweight and obese participants is the role of love attitudes, love languages and attachment style in emotional eating.

There is substantial evidence to suggest that those who routinely use food for affect regulation may have significant psychological issues relating to their history. Attachment history has been studied extensively for its relationship to affect regulation – and insecure attachment is common in eating disordered populations. Both attachment anxiety and attachment avoidance have been related to poorer outcomes in group treatment for binge eating disorder and anxious attachment has been found to significantly predict uncontrolled eating after controlling for age, gender and emotional eating. By contrast, the presence of a positive and emotionally supportive parental relationship, in conjunction with parental fostering of autonomy, has been shown to be inversely associated with weight preoccupation, bulimic behaviour, and feelings of ineffectiveness in university students.

The central question of the current study was what makes some individuals prone to emotional eating, in relation to their body mass index (BMI), attachment style and any psychopathology, while others are clearly less vulnerable in this regard. A person’s attachment style reflects the quality of bonding in early life, and is believed to remain stable throughout adulthood, therefore comprehensive assessment of this in obese and normal weight adults may highlight whether attachment style influences the tendency to engage in emotional eating when BMI is also assessed. Furthermore, besides the theory of emotional eating, ‘restraint theory’ (Herman & Polivy, 1984) plays an important role in possible explanations of disregulated eating and has not been extensively explored in relation to attachment and obesity.

Thus measures of attachment style, love attitudes, psychopathology and restrained eating as well as emotional eating were be explored across obese and normal weight adults currently in a relationship. Because the majority of research has occurred in female populations, this study attempted to also explore these concepts in an equal male to female sample.

Data in SPSS format.
Date made available2013
PublisherBond University
Date of data production2012 - 2013

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