Body image and disordered eating in romantic relationships
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Eating, weight, and shape concerns (EWS) are prevalent among college women, and women with EWS concerns tend to experience difficulties in the domain of interpersonal functioning. For a young woman, romantic relationships represent one of the most important aspects of her interpersonal world; thus, an exploration of the romantic relationships of women with EWS concerns may potentially impact the risk assessment, prevention, and treatment of these women. This study used a longitudinal design to examine the relations between EWS concerns and romantic relationships in 88 college women and their heterosexual partners. Participants completed questionnaires at two time points spaced approximately two months apart. Results revealed that women’s relationship outcomes did not predict changes in their EWS concerns over the subsequent two months, but relationship negative events for men predicted a worsening of women’s EWS concerns. This finding contradicts the common hypothesis that the influence between women’s EWS concerns and romantic relationship outcomes is bi-directional. Men’s desired change in their partners’ bodies predicted women’s EWS concerns cross-sectionally and longitudinally; however, once controlling for Body Mass Index, most results were no longer significant. Thus, it seems that a woman’s actual body weight may be driving both her partner’s satisfaction with her body and her own EWS concerns. Results for analyses determining whether women’s EWS concerns predicted subsequent changes in relationship outcomes indicated that women’s body image during physical intimacy was the only EWS variable that significantly or marginally predicted a worsening of all relationship outcomes for both men and women. This finding provides further support for previous research suggesting that women’s body image problems may lead to avoidance or uneasiness with physical intimacy, which in turn may impact relationship functioning. Finally, men’s desired change in their partner’s bodies predicted only men’s own relationship outcomes cross-sectionally, and only women’s relationship outcomes longitudinally. Overall, this study highlights the importance of longitudinal research and of assessing both partners when exploring the relations between women’s EWS concerns and romantic relationship outcomes.
Rahbar, Kristen Pauline (2006). Body image and disordered eating in romantic relationships. Master's thesis, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from