Date of Award


Publication Type

Doctoral Thesis

Degree Name




First Advisor

Lafreniere, Kathryn




Current public health discourse conceptualizes obesity as an illness, and weight loss and/or weight control are then by definition the treatment. Socio-economic status, experiences of social stigma and prejudicial medical care, a history of dieting attempts, and stress have been shown to moderate the relationship between higher weights and poor health. Additionally, weight loss practices in and of themselves are harmful to physical and psychological health. The risks of body dissatisfaction and the pursuit of weight loss are well demonstrated in developing eating pathology. This study investigated if perceptions of dieting behaviour of a hypothetical target are influenced by the target’s body weight, participant belief in weight controllability, and being presented with different health messages regarding body weight. 402 female university students completed this (2 x 2 x 2) experimental study in which they were randomly assigned to receive one of two weight and health messages (weight based model of health vs. Health at Every Size), and randomly assigned to receive one of four scenarios depicting a hypothetical person ‘Jody.’ Jody was depicted as either normal weight or obese, and as either dieting or not dieting and participants completed a questionnaire about their perceptions of Jody and her attitudes and behaviours. Participants also completed a demographic questionnaire, the Antifat Attitudes Test, the Social Attitudes Towards Appearance Questionnaire, and the Restraint Scale. Results demonstrated that the lack of dieting behaviour in thinner Jody was almost universally seen as unhealthy, but if she was heavier there was much more variance in the perceptions of her health and her lack of weight control behaviours. Qualitative responses demonstrated that obese Jody’s dieting behaviour would be seen by participants as an eating disorder if she was thinner, and that her weight concern and pursuit of weight loss was positive, but her methods were too extreme. Participants would view her dieting behaviour differently based on her body size, with dieting being seen as negative or unhealthy if she were normal weight or thin, but if she were overweight or obese a lack of restrictive dieting is negative and unhealthy. Belief in weight controllability and prejudicial attitudes about body weight were related to perceiving the lack of dieting behaviours as risky regardless of Jody’s body size, and antifat attitudes were related to perceiving Jody as a person more negatively (unattractive, lazy, stupid) when she was obese. Those who were presented with the weight based model of health message were more likely to perceive non-restrictive behaviours as negative (regardless of Jody’s body weight). Results also suggest that participants were more likely to perceive obese Jody as Black, and as living in poverty, with participants more likely to perceive normal weight Jody as having a higher socioeconomic status. Although it was hypothesized that the dieting behaviours of obese Jody would be perceived as healthy, the key finding was actually in regard to perceptions of her lack of dieting. When Jody was not dieting and normal weight she was seen as healthy and praised for her positive behaviours, but when her BMI was obese and she was not dieting, there was considerable uncertainty as to her health, solely based on her body weight. This study also demonstrates the enigmatic notion of an ‘ideal’ or ‘in between’ in terms of body image and pursuit of weight loss. Too much body hatred was seen as negative, but too much body love was also regarded as negative. There is a paradoxical belief that somehow a person can love their body, but at the same time should still try to change it.