Future-oriented Self-Regulation in Eating Behavior

by C.D.W. Vinkers

Institution: Universiteit Utrecht
Year: 2013
Record ID: 1265012
Full text PDF: http://dspace.library.uu.nl:8080/handle/1874/287125


Although many people want to change their unhealthy eating behavior, only few actually succeed in the long run. One reason for such frequent failure is that people are remarkably inept in dealing with the obstacles that accompany the road to healthier eating behavior and weight. Such obstacles comprise the many food temptations that are available at virtually any time and any place in our so-called obesogenic environment, but also reside in ourselves (e.g., mood, habits). The central theoretical framework of the present dissertation, Proactive Coping Theory (Aspinwall & Taylor, 1997), proposes that if people anticipate and prepare for obstacles in advance, they are better able to successfully self-regulate their eating behavior when those obstacles do occur. In the present dissertation, this proposition was tested by investigating how the anticipation of – and preparation for – future obstacles, i.e., proactive coping, influences eating behavior change. This overall aim was addressed in a series of experimental (Chapters 2-3) and field studies (Chapters 4-6) conducted in student samples as well as in a sample of overweight and obese people participating in a weigh management intervention. First, we investigated the effect of anticipating obstacles on eating and weight regulation – without explicitly preparing for them at the same time. In two chapters, we demonstrated that the expectation of many obstacles can both have detrimental effects on optimism (Chapter 2) and beneficial effects on weight regulation (Chapter 4). Importantly, these effects only occurred when participants had relatively few psychological resources that typically promote successful self-regulation (i.e., positive self-beliefs and proactive coping skills). These studies suggest that psychological resources are important determinants of whether anticipating obstacles influences success in eating behavior change. Second, we addressed the issue that preparation for obstacles via specific if-then plans, ‘implementation intentions’ (e.g., “If I feel like eating chocolate, then I will eat an apple”) can easily go awry when the planned response is impossible to execute when the obstacle is encountered (e.g., apples are unavailable). Although it makes intuitive sense to make a back-up plan in advance, our findings show that when people prepare for obstacles by planning more than one response, it can actually backfire and facilitate self-regulation failure (Chapter 3). Lastly, we examined whether a brief intervention aimed at the development of proactive coping skills is a viable approach to improve self-regulation in an overweight an obese population. Chapter 5 showed that the intervention group improved their proactive coping skills, and importantly, lost more weight in the long run compared to the control group. As there was a puzzling large drop out rate during intervention, we elucidated in Chapter 6 that psychological changes during intervention (e.g., self-efficacy) play an important role in persisting or giving up during the weight management…