Magazine 2015
International Peer-Reviewed Journal  
Meghna Basu Thakur, Jyotika Varmani  
Eating disorders are the focus of a large body of research today. The roots of these disorders, lie in the  
attitudes individuals hold about eating. Adolescent girls are a particularly vulnerable population when it  
comes to body shape and appearance. The present study looks at specific disordered eating attitudes  
among adolescent girls in the urban Indian context. Five areas of eating attitude including relationship  
with food, concerns about food and weight gain, restrictive and compensatory practices, feeling toward  
eating and idea of normal eating are studied.Data obtained from sixty adolescent girls (N=60) ranging  
from the ages 16-17 is analysed. Results are presented referring to specific domains of disordered  
eating attitudes. The results are discussed with respect to growing trends of eating attitudes, the influence  
of media and religious practices, and the growing influence of the Western culture. The implications of  
the study in terms of a need for education of healthy eating practices are also discussed.  
Key Words: adolescent girls, disordered eating attitudes, eating attitudes in India  
Disordered Eating Attitudes in Female Adolescents  
Eating attitudes are defined as beliefs, thoughts, feelings, behaviours and relationship with food (Alvarenga, 2010). Eating attitudes are the foundation of the development of eating disorders. Healthy eating  
attitudes contribute to healthy living (Naughton, McCarthy & McCarthy, 2013).  
Adolescence and Eating Attitudes  
Adolescence involves a marked growth in social interactions and expectations. This is the time when  
there are also important bodily changes like changes in body proportion, size, weight and body image  
Burgic, Burgic & Gavric 2010). This age is also characterized by a profound impact of the media, and  
the growing use of social media (Clarke-Pearson& O’Keeffe, 2011). The glorification of slenderness in the  
media is not uncommon (Levine & Smolak, 2010). Several studies have established a strong risk during  
adolescence for eating disorders (e.g. Marti, Rohde & Stice, 2014).  
Eating Attitudes and Gender  
Eating disorders have a strong association to gender. They are more prevalent in females especially in  
adolescent girlsowing to their preoccupation with body shape, weight and diet (Burgic, Burgic& Gavric,  
010). Females are found to be more prone to engage in maladaptive eating behaviours like binge  
eating, dieting, and vomiting (Moore, 2009). The indulgence of this population in dieting and other  
weight loss strategies are associated to a growing risk of eating disorders (Burgic, Burgic& Gavric,  
Eating Attitudes in Indian Females  
It is common knowledge that western cultures place a strong emphasis on physical appearance. Females  
in these cultures are found to associate attractiveness to being thin (McCabe & Ricciardelli, 2001).  
Several Indian studies have established that adolescent girls in the country show similar ideals as that of  
girls in Western cultures with respect to body image disturbance and eating disorders (e.g. Sjostedt,  
Shumaker, & Nathawat, 1998; Lunner et al., 2000; Gupta, Chaturvedi, Chandarana, & Johnson, 2001).  
The increasing exposure to Western media and fast paced globalization has further increased the presence  
of eating disturbance, leading to high levels of body dissatisfaction and a fear of being overweight  
Gupta et al., 2001; Sjostedt et al., 1998).  
The Present Study  
There has been a dearth of studies on specific disordered eating attitudes in the Indian context. Hence,  
the present study looks at the prevalence of eating attitudes in a sample of Indian adolescent girls with  
respect to five areas namely, relationship with food, concerns about food and weight gain, restrictive  
and compensatory practices, feeling toward eating and normal eating.  
International Peer-Reviewed Journal  
Research Methodology  
Sixtyfemale adolescent girls studying in different junior colleges were selected based on availability  
N=60). Their ages ranged from 16 to 17 years.  
The Disordered Eating Attitude Scale (English Version) developed by Alvarenga in 2010 was  
used for the purpose of the study. The internal consistency of the scale has been established as .76.  
The scale has been found to have appropriate internal consistency, convergent validity and test–retest  
reliability (Alvarenga, 2010) and is useful in measuring eating attitudes in English speaking  
countries. The scale is divided into five subscales. Subscale 1 (questions 8,10,13,  
7,18,19,20,21,22,23,24)deals with relationship with food; subscale 2 (questions 5, 14, 15 and 16)  
deals with concerns about food and weight gain; subscale 3 (questions 4,6,7 and 12) deals with restrictive  
and compensatory practices; subscale 4 (questions 2,3, and 9) measures feeling toward eating and  
subscale 4 (questions 1a,b,c and 11) measure idea of normal eating.  
Written informed consent regarding the study was obtained from the 60 participants. The scales were  
then administered and the participants were orally debriefed about the purpose of the study. The  
obtained data was subject to analysis.  
Data Analysis  
Data was analysed using SPSS 20. The frequency of positive answers to each question and for each  
subscale collectively was analysed in terms of percentages. Cut-offs for Likert type responses were set  
to include those behaviours that showed very frequent responses. Thus, any response scoring 4 or 5  
was considered as a response showing a disordered eating attitude.  
Results & Discussion  
Of the total adolescent sample, only 5% showed absolutely no signs of disordered eating attitudes.  
The remaining 95% showed some or the other disordered attitudes in certain areas. Totally, 35% showed  
disordered eating attitudes that can be a cause for concern.  
Figure 1 - Prevalence Of The Five Different Types Of Disordered Eating Attitudes In The  
International Peer-Reviewed Journal  
As seen in figure 1, the highest prevalence rates were found for disordered ideas of normal eating  
78.33%), followed by restrictive and compensatory eating practices (48.33%), followed by disordered  
feelings toward eating (31.67%) and disordered relationship with food (31.67%), followed by concerns  
about food and weight gain (28.33%).  
Figure 2- Prevalence of the different types of disordered attitudes regarding relationship  
to food  
As seen in figure 2, the highest prevalence rates among disordered attitudes regarding relationship to  
food were found for losing control of eating in buffets (56.67%), followed by compensating for overeating  
50%), followed by concern about counting calories (46.67%), followed by dislike towards eating  
31.67%), followed fear about being unable to stop eating (25%), followed by feeling dirty (20%),  
followed by guilt about eating (16.67%), followed by the wish for a pill to replace eating (15%) followed  
by difficulty in stopping eating (10%) and a belief of food messing up one’s life (10%), followed by  
anger about eating (8.33%) and a wish to control appetite (8.33%).  
Figure 3- Prevalence of the different types of Concerns about Food and Weight Gain  
International Peer-Reviewed Journal  
As seen in figure 3, the highest prevalence rates were found for worry about weight gain (56.67%),  
followed by counting calories (18.33%), followed by persistent worry about eating (8.33%), followed  
by not eating high calorie foods (3.33%).  
Figure 4- Prevalence of the different types of Restrictive and Compensatory Practices to  
Lose Weight  
As seen in figure 4, the highest prevalence rates were found for fasting to lose weight (31.67%),  
followed by skipping meals to avoid weight gain (28.33%), followed by vomiting/using laxatives or  
diuretics to lose weight (13.33%), followed by enjoying feeling of empty stomach (8.33%).  
Figure 5- Prevalence of the different types of Disordered Feelings toward Food  
International Peer-Reviewed Journal  
As seen in figure 5, the highest prevalence rates were found for bad memories regarding food (20.00%),  
followed by displeasure about eating (16.67%), followed by feeling “dirty” about eating (11.67%).  
Figure 6- Prevalence of the different types of Disordered Ideas about Food  
As seen in figure 6, the highest prevalence rates were found for disordered beliefs about consumption of  
various foods (75.00%) and disordered beliefs about occasional eating when upset (33.33%).  
From the findings of the present study, it is apparent that disordered eating attitudes among young  
adolescent girls are present at noteworthy rates. In their study of adolescent females, Chellapa &  
Karunanidhi (2013) reported disordered eating attitudes in 30% of the total sample. 35% of the present  
sample showed disordered eating attitudes indicating the rising trend of the phenomenon. The results  
show that certain specific areas of eating attitudes need are especially noteworthy.  
Distorted Ideas of Nutritional Requirement  
The most prevalent type of disordered attitude found in this study is ideas about normal eating. The  
media has been considered as the prime factor that has led to a drive for thinness in adolescents  
Fernandez and Pritchard, 2012). As seen in their responses to questions 1a,b, and c, due to a constant  
promotion of eating styles that enable one to remain slim, adolescents have started believing that  
certain healthy foods like sugar, bread, rice, etc. need not be consumed at all. This trend is unfortunate  
as eating beliefs set in adolescence are found to be carried right through to adulthood (Neumark-  
Sczteiner, 2011). It is also found that such attitudes are ineffective for their purpose i.e. weight loss  
in the long run (Neumark-Sczteiner, 2012).  
Compensation for Overeating  
Studies from an ethnic perspective have shown that white women tend to show the highest amount of  
compensatory eating behaviour (Crago & Shisslak, 2003). There is a lack of research on restrictive and  
compensatory practices of eating in India. Fasting is observed in India commonly as a part of religious  
International Peer-Reviewed Journal  
practices. The results of the present study, however, clearly show that restrictive practices are also  
undertaken with an aim to lose weight. The commonality of fasting as a part of culture is perhaps the  
reason for its preference to compensatory practices like vomiting and use of laxatives to compensate for  
A Growing Concern for Calorie Intake  
Calorie counting has become an obsession in the world. Concern about overeating on rare occasions is  
also a product of this concern. The most obvious outcome of limiting calories is malnutrition. Besides,  
excessive calorie counting has been linked to psychological problems like impaired judgment, irrational  
behavior, obsessive compulsive disorder, panic attacks and irrational fears. It is also linked to depression  
(Whalen, 2015).  
Worry about weight gain  
Research links worrying about weight gain to a psychological symptom rather than a current trend  
Casper & Offer, 1990). The media again plays a major role in these concerns. Given the abnormality of  
this concern, it is unfortunate that this symptom is persisting at increasing rates.  
More definite results could be established with the help of a larger sample size. Since the study was  
based on the self-report technique, it cannot be guaranteed that the participants have truthfully answered  
all the questions.  
The high prevalence of disordered ideas about eating indicates that the common media portrayal of  
ideal eating practices and emphasis on being slim at the cost of healthy nourishment needs to be  
modified.Adolescents need education on healthy eating rather than on losing weight. Deeper research  
needs to be done on distorted ideas of nutritional value of food and on restrictive practices of eating.  
Further research can look into disordered eating attitudes in various age groups within the adolescence  
age bracket, and particularly look out for the age of onset of extreme eating attitudes. More studies  
need to look at attitudes towards eating specifically in the Indian context.  
The present study has highlighted the prevalence of disordered eating attitudes and highlighted the  
prominent areas of disordered eating attitudes in adolescent girls in India today.  
Alvarenga (2010). “Psychometric evaluation of the Disordered Eating Attitude Scale” (DEAS). English  
version. Appetite 5, 374-376  
Burgic M., Burgic S., &Gavric Z. (2010). “Eating Attitudes In Adolescent Girls”. Psychiatria Danubina. 22  
International Peer-Reviewed Journal  
Casper, R. C., & Offer, D. (1990). Weight and Dieting Concerns In Adolescents: Fashion or Symptom?  
Pediatrics, 86, 384–390.  
Chellapa & Karunanidhi (2013). “Eating Attitudes and its Psychological Correlates among Female College  
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increase and decrease body size among adolescent boys and girls”. Adolescence. 2001;36:225–240.  
Naughton P., McCarthy S., & McCarthy M.(2013) “Healthy eating attitudes and healthy living: An  
examination of the relationship between attitudes, food choices and lifestyle behaviours in a representative  
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image: A handbook of science, practice, and prevention (2nd ed., pp. 67-75). New York: Guilford Press.  
Whalen (2015). The Dangers of Extreme Calorie Counting. Food and Nutrition.  
Meghna Basu Thakur, Asst. Professor & Head, Dept. of Psychology, R.D. National College, Mumbai  
Jyoti Varmani, Facutly, Dept. of Psycholoy, R. D. National College, Mumbai.