The purpose of the study was to
investigate large women's feelings about their body size and weight loss attempts in light
of recent research challenging long-held cultural beliefs that one should be able to
control one's weight.
The Sample: Over 100
women anonymously returned questionnaires that had been distributed at NAAFA's 1990
convention (National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance), large size clothing stores in
the San Francisco Bay Area, and Radiance magazine. The group was
predominantly white and heterosexual;
about half were single;
about half lived in the western
average age was 37.5 (range 25-57),
average weight was 288 pounds (range
average education was 3 years of
average annual income was
Since this is not your average group of
over-200 pound women, one should be cautious about generalizing results to large women in
Most respondents said their weight
became defined as a problem (and 45% tried to lose weight for the first time) in
The average number of weight loss
attempts was 40.
73% generally feel better about their
bodies now than at earlier times in their lives.
Over half the women say they generally
accept their body as it is, and body acceptance was not related to weight (i.e., it was
just as likely for the heaviest women to accept their bodies as the lightest).
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Other key findings:
- The sample seemed to separate into two roughly equal
groups: one in which the women basically accepted their body size and had little intention
of trying to lose weight, and one in which the women didn't accept their body size and
intended to try (or were currently trying) to lose weight.
- There were many statistically significant personality
differences between these two groups, although both groups' scores on personality measures
fell into the psychologically healthy range. The women who had decided to stop
trying to lose weight were somewhat more strong-willed, assertive, confident, comfortable
with conflict, sociable, creative, risk-taking, and somewhat less convention or inclined
to postpone gratification. The women who were continuing to try to lose weight felt
generally lower self-esteem with a somewhat greater sense of shame, and were more
conventional and conscientious.
- Although there was no difference in the number of
failed weight loss attempts between the two groups, the women who "gave up"
trying to lose weight had scores indicating they regarded weight as something they had
little control over. But paradoxically, these same women had higher self-esteem
and a greater sense of control in their lives in general. This finding
contradicts the idea that trying to control one's weight enhances one's sense of
self-control and self-esteem; for the women in this study, the opposite was true.
This may be because if you believe you should be able to control your weight and you fail
to do so, you may conclude that you lack self-control; but if you entertain the
possibility that weight might be less controllable, your overall sense of control in your
life may remain intact.
- Body size acceptance was related to self-esteem, the
belief that weight is not very controllable, giving up dieting, having fewer health
concerns, experiencing greater physical well-being and ease of movement, having better
social supports, and participating in size-acceptance activities. Notably, it
was not related to the degree of fatness.
- The process of becoming more accepting appears to be
complex, although most of the women in the study said they had become more accepting over
the course of their lives. Most people seem to have started with the sense that their body
size was unacceptable and made frequent attempts to lose weight. Then there seemed
to be a period for many when weight loss attempts alternated with self-acceptance as a
strategy, until self-acceptance became more firmly felt.
- Respondents were eloquent describing the threats to
their self-esteem from the outside world, and almost all assumed that most other large
women felt negatively about their bodies. But most felt personally that they
were happier, more attractive, healthier, more assertive, and more sociable as a result of
feeling better about their bodies.
For more information, see "Is Giving Up on Dieting
Giving Up on Yourself?" Radiance Magazine, fall 1991.
For the complete text of this research study, call
800-521-0600, x3781 and ask for publication #91-15186.
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