Background: Dietary restraint (DR) has been implicated in both the aetiology and treatment of obesity and eating disorders. While DR is necessary for weight loss, high DR may lead to disinhibition, disordered eating, binge eating and weight gain. The present study aimed to evaluate the role of DR in a sample of obese subjects seeking treatment. It was hypothesised that compared to low and high DR, moderate DR would protect against weight gain, poor eating pattern and psychopathology.
Methods: Dietary restraint, disinhibition and hunger were measured at baseline by the TFEQ in 2496 patients (1731 female) who had attended an outpatient obesity management clinic between 1992 and 2013. We assessed their baseline anthropometry, psychological measures (DASS, BDI), eating and exercise behaviour (Food habits questionnaire and Modified Beacke), medical profiles and weight loss outcomes according to their degree of dietary restraint.
Main findings: Subjects with higher DR had lower baseline weight, BMI and waist circumference. These subjects did not report increased symptoms of depression or anxiety and reported lower fat score and higher better habits score. In women, high DR was also associated with higher activity levels. Although linear regression showed that DR was a predictor of baseline weight secondary to self-esteem, it only accounted for 1.9% of the variance in baseline weight. DR did not remain predictive in men after adjusting for self-esteem. Higher baseline DR did not predict short or long term weight loss.
Conclusion: Contrary to the hypothesis, higher DR is associated with lower body weight and healthier eating and physical activity behaviours in an obese treatment seeking population with no adverse effect on depression or anxiety. Although DR is not predictive of weight loss in the short term, it is suggested that DR may be important for everyday weight maintenance.