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My Body is a Temple: Eating Disturbances, Religious Involvement, and Mental Health Among Young Adult Women

Abstract

A growing body of the literature outlines the undesirable mental health consequences of eating disturbances. However, little attention has been given to the possible mitigating effects of cultural institutions, such as religion, in the lives of women suffering from such pathologies. Our work contributes to the literature by (a) outlining a series of arguments linking eating disturbances, religion, and mental health; (b) specifying two conceptual models of these relationships; and (c) testing relevant hypotheses using data on a large nationwide sample of young women. Results indicate that religious involvement—organizational, non-organizational, and subjective religiousness—moderates the effects of eating disturbances on mental health, particularly for self-esteem. Study limitations are identified and several promising directions for future research are discussed.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    In the stress-buffering model, Wheaton (1985) suggests that resources may exhibit a “dual” buffering role. That is, resources (i.e., religion) may not only attenuate the impact of stress (i.e., eating disturbances) on well-being, but that in the face of stress individuals may also mobilize these resources. In ancillary analyses not shown, we examined this model; the eating disturbance variables were regressed on the four religion variables. The results suggest that for three of the four religion variables, eating disturbances have no significant effect. The only exception is prayer. The results reveal that (a) body weight dissatisfaction and (b) binge eating have a positive association with prayer at p < .05, net of socio-demographic variables and other covariates. These results suggest that individuals may indeed mobilize private religious practices in the face of eating disturbances; a notion supported by the literature (Boyatzis et al. 2007; Jacobs-Pilipski et al. 2005; Richards et al. 2007; Smith et al. 2003).

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Acknowledgments

This research uses data from Add Health, a program designed by J. Richard Udry, Peter S. Bearman, and Kathleen Mullan Harris, and funded by a Grant (P01-HD31921) from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, with cooperative funding from 17 other agencies. Persons interested in obtaining data files from Add Health should contact Add Health, Carolina Population Center, 123 W. Franklin Street, Chapel Hill, NC 27516-2524. The authors thank Chris J. Boyatzis for his helpful comments on a previous draft.

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Correspondence to Andrea K. Henderson.

Appendix

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Table 4 Pearson’s correlation coefficients

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Henderson, A.K., Ellison, C.G. My Body is a Temple: Eating Disturbances, Religious Involvement, and Mental Health Among Young Adult Women. J Relig Health 54, 954–976 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10943-014-9838-y

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Keywords

  • Religion
  • Mental health
  • Gender
  • Eating disturbances
  • Health
  • Body image