Sex Roles

, Volume 32, Issue 3–4, pp 225–249

Body image and dieting failure in college men and women: Examining links between depression and eating problems

  • Linda J. Koenig
  • Erika L. Wasserman
Article

Abstract

The noted co-occurrence between depression and eating problems in women may be due to their common association with negative body image. Specifically, the western cultural ideal that equates feminine beauty with thinness leads a large number of women to be dissatisfied with their bodies. A recent model [M. McCarthy (1990) “The Thin Ideal, Depression, and Eating Disorders in Women,” Behavioral Research and Therapy, Vol. 28, pp. 205–215] suggests that this dissatisfaction, coupled with high importance placed on appearance, leads most women to engage in dieting to obtain this level of thinness. As dieting is typically unsuccessful as a means of long-term weight control, depression will result from the sense of failure and helplessness associated with dieting failure. This depression then leads to increasingly maladaptive eating behaviors that serve to assuage negative affect and regain control over body appearance. In a sample of 234 male and female, predominantly white, 17–22-year-old college students, we examined several components of this model, including the specificity of these relations for women. In accordance with the model, depressive symptoms and eating problems were predicted to be an interactive function of body image and body image importance, with negative body image/high importance subjects showing the greatest disturbance. In addition, we examined several components of the model to determine (a) the relation between failed dieting and depression, and (b) the extent to which depression could account for eating problems. Regardless of gender, eating problems were indeed highest among those with both negative body image and high body image importance. Depression, however, was higher in subjects with negative body image, regardless of body image importance. For both men and women, failed dieting was significantly related to depression, but only for women did depression account for significant variability in eating problems. Validity of the model is considered. Gender differences in the nature of these relations, and the need to consider possible alternative effects of the cultural standard for masculine attractiveness, are discussed.

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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • Linda J. Koenig
    • 1
  • Erika L. Wasserman
    • 2
  1. 1.Emory UniversityUSA
  2. 2.University of MiamiUSA

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