Open Access Open Badges Review

Motivational dynamics of eating regulation: a self-determination theory perspective

Joke Verstuyf1*, Heather Patrick2, Maarten Vansteenkiste1 and Pedro J Teixeira3

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Developmental, Personality and Social Psychology, Ghent University, H. Dunantlaan 2, 9000 Ghent, Belgium

2 National Cancer Institute, 6130 Executive Boulevard, Rockville, MD 20852-7335 USA

3 Faculty of Human Kinetics, Technical University of Lisbon, Estrada da Costa, 1495-688 Cruz Quebrada, Portugal

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International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2012, 9:21  doi:10.1186/1479-5868-9-21

Published: 2 March 2012


Within Western society, many people have difficulties adequately regulating their eating behaviors and weight. Although the literature on eating regulation is vast, little attention has been given to motivational dynamics involved in eating regulation. Grounded in Self-Determination Theory (SDT), the present contribution aims to provide a motivational perspective on eating regulation. The role of satisfaction and thwarting of the basic psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness is introduced as a mechanism to (a) explain the etiology of body image concerns and disordered eating and (b) understand the optimal regulation of ongoing eating behavior for healthy weight maintenance. An overview of empirical studies on these two research lines is provided. In a final section, the potential relevance and value of SDT in relation to prevailing theoretical models in the domain of eating regulation is discussed. Although research on SDT in the domain of eating regulation is still in its early stages and more research is clearly needed, this review suggests that the SDT represents a promising framework to more thoroughly study and understand the motivational processes involved in eating regulation and associated problems.

Eating Regulation; Eating Disorders; Self-Determination Theory; Motivation; Autonomous Regulation; Need Substitutes; Thin-Ideal