About 40% of young adult females engage in dysregulated eating behaviors (Goldschmidt et al.,
2018) which is concerning because this can serve as an antecedent to clinical eating disorders
(Bryla, 2003). Research suggests that dysregulated eating may result from the blocking or
frustration of three fundamental psychological needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness
(Deci & Ryan, 2000). Conversely, satisfaction of these three needs may contribute to more
regulated and healthier eating patterns. More specifically, the supporting and/or thwarting of the
need for relatedness seems to have the most robust association with individuals’ eating
behaviors. The purpose of this study was to experimentally test the impact of relatedness support
and thwarting on eating regulation. Female undergraduate students (N = 82; Mage = 19.21) first
played a “Boggle” game during which they experienced connecting, rejecting or neutral
interactions with the researchers, as part of the need manipulation. They then participated in a
bogus chocolate taste test. Dependent variables included the amount of chocolate eaten,
positive/negative affect, state anxiety, intrinsic motivation, and game performance. One-way
ANOVAs and ANCOVAs suggest that when individuals experienced relatedness thwarting, they
consumed more food (d = .45), experienced more negative mood (d = .66), less positive mood (d
= .73), and less intrinsic motivation (willingness to recommend experience, d = .76) than those
who experienced relatedness support. Tendencies toward emotional eating and eating more or
less in response to stress did not influence the amount of chocolate consumed. Overall, the
findings were supportive of self-determination theory’s propositions about basic psychological
needs and indicated that when individuals feel socially rejected or undermined, they are more
likely to engage in dysregulated eating and experience ill-being.
A Plan B Research Project submitted to the faculty of the University of Minnesota by Urvashi Dixit in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts, May 2020. Advisors: Lara LaCaille and Rick LaCaille.
Eating Regulation Within the Context of Self-Determination Theory.
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