The current study sought to explore the effects of eating behaviors on mental health and the internalization of attitudes toward one's appearance. This was performed through a survey distributed through a global online market research firm, Dynata, and gathered 495 eligible participants. Of those, 78 represented the plant-based group, and 417 represented the non-plant-based group. Each completed the survey containing sections with the Mizes Anorectic Cognitions Scale (MACS) to assess if they were at low or high risk for having/developing an eating disorder, a section determining if participants were plant-based (defined as a regimen that encourages whole, plant-based foods and discourages meats, dairy products, and eggs as well as all refined and processed foods (Tuso et al., 2013)) or not, and asking what their perceived benefits were from their plant-based (or lack of plant-based) diet, a section on the Sociocultural Attitudes Towards Appearance (SATAQ-4), and finally, the Depression, Anxiety, and Stress Scale (DASS). The status of participants being plant-based or non-plant-based was analyzed as this study sought to explore past research that found plant-based diets to be physically and mentally beneficial (Beezhold et al., 2014; Benefits of Plant-Based Diets, 2021; Daneshzad et al., 2019). A series of statistical tests were conducted on SPSS 28 to analyze which groups (high risk for E.D. and plant-based, high risk for E.D. and non-plant-based, low risk for E.D. and plant-based, or low risk for E.D. and non-plant-based) were statistically significant compared to one another. The findings revealed the plant-based group to contain higher percentage of high risk for eating disorder participants. The plant-based group, regardless of high risk, was negatively associated with higher levels of scores on four out of the five sections including internalization of attitudes towards appearance, weight-based pressures from family, weight-based pressures from peers, and higher levels of reported depression, anxiety, and stress. Pressures felt from the media did not display a statistically significant level of difference between any of the high/low risk and plant-based to high/low risk and non-plant-based. The results were interpreted using social learning theory, which proposes that humans have evolved an advanced capacity for observational learning, enabling them to acquire knowledge, attitudes, values, emotional proclivities, and competencies through information conveyed by a rich variety of actual and symbolic models (Bandura, 2002). This allowed for cause and effects to be hypothesized for why the plant-based group was negatively associated with worse mental health and internalization of attitudes towards appearance. Among these hypothesized causes included participants adopting a plant-based diet due to its growing social media popularity, users learning from observation and leading to aquired knowledge, attitudes, values, and beliefs on the diet. Furthermore, those with an obsession of clean-eating could have led many high-risk for E.D. participants to fulfill their internalized thin-ideal and pressure from family and peers regarding appearance through this popular diet they have observed through social media, which would be consistent with previous studies (Holmgren, 2017; Stewart & Ogden, 2020). Limitations include the small sample size of plant-based dieters without equal representation of low to high risk for E.D.s, along with the limitation on not knowing the reasoning why each participant is plant-based (ethical, environmental, health, diet purposes, or due to social learning and popularity) nor for how long they have adhered to this lifestyle. Future research should expand this study to more locations, analyze for differences based on age groups, and build upon the current study to allow for more generalizability.
College and Department
Fine Arts and Communications; Communications
BYU ScholarsArchive Citation
Bollinger, Avery E., "Examining the Effects of Eating Behaviors on Mental Health and Internalization of Weight-Based Messaging" (2022). Theses and Dissertations. 9629.
eating behaviors, mental health, internalization, body image, weight-based messaging, communications, social learning theory, diet, plant-based diet, eating disorders, comparison study