What are you losing it for? Weight suppression motivations in undergraduates



Accumulating evidence suggests weight suppression (WS) is related to disordered eating and eating disorder (ED) risk in non-clinical samples; however, research to-date has not examined the intentionality of, or motivations for, WS. The purpose of this study was to: (1) qualitatively assess WS motivation in undergraduates, and (2) explore differences in body image and eating behaviors across motivation categories.


In the first study, responses from 192 undergraduates were evaluated using inductive content analysis; four primary motivation categories emerged: appearance, functional, sports/military, and unintentional. In a second study, 1033 undergraduates indicated their primary WS motivation, if applicable, and completed body image and eating behavior measures. Separate analyses were run by gender; covariates included current body mass index (BMI) and WS.


Differences in body image and eating behaviors emerged across motivation categories for both men (p < 0.001) and women (p < 0.001). Appearance-motivated WS in men, and appearance and sports/military-motivated WS in women, were related to greater body dissatisfaction, restraint, thin-ideal internalization, and ED risk. Undergraduates with intentional WS demonstrated higher body dissatisfaction and eating pathology than undergraduates with unintentional or no WS (all ps < 0.05).


Assessing weight history and WS motivations could be a brief, low-cost intervention to improve identification of undergraduates at greatest risk for EDs. This information could be integrated into campus marketing campaigns promoting wellness.

Level of evidence

Cross-sectional descriptive study, Level V.

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Correspondence to C. Blair Burnette.

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Both phases of the project were approved by the institutional review board (IRB) at the university where the research was conducted. All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Burnette, C.B., Davies, A.E., Boutté, R.L. et al. What are you losing it for? Weight suppression motivations in undergraduates. Eat Weight Disord 25, 497–508 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40519-018-00635-y

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  • Weight suppression
  • Undergraduates
  • Body image
  • Disordered eating