Developmental and Situational Factors Contributing to Changes in Eating Behaviour in First-Year Undergraduate Women
Boyd, Jennifer Lynn
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The purpose of the present study was to evaluate the importance of developmental history and current life events in predicting changes in eating behaviour in undergraduate women. The developmental variables tested were parents’ general parenting style and also how parents interacted with their daughter around food in childhood. Within the current situational model, I considered the variables of current family and peer dieting, as well as participants’ stressors and coping styles. Importantly, this study utilized a longitudinal design in which women provided information regarding their stressful experiences and eating behaviours over the previous week for nine weeks during their first semester of university. Results showed that it is possible to evaluate short-term changes in eating behaviours, and that both the situational factors as well as developmental history contribute to the understanding of these changes. A greater number of stressful academic and interpersonal events and perceived stress were both related to increases in dietary restriction over the semester, and also to periods of emotional over-eating. Past parenting style in childhood, including excessive control or very permissive parenting, were both related to a higher occurrence of current eating problems in daughters. Parental focus on the relationship between food and weight while their daughters were children was also related to more problematic eating behaviours in adulthood. As well, the more that peers and parents dieted or encouraged dieting presently, the more likely the participant was to exhibit restrictive dieting, as well as over-eating. The findings from this study suggest that the first year of university is a time when many changes occur in women’s eating behaviours, and further research on eating behaviour in this population is warranted.