Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Donald A. Williamson


Restraint theory states that for some individuals physiological factors which normally result in eating compete with cognitive efforts to resist eating (i.e. dietary restraint). This disparity has been hypothesized to result in a chronic state of stress which leads to reduced behavioral control and increased negative affect. It has been presumed that dietary restraint is a precondition for overeating. Despite the legitimacy of proposing a link between stress, dietary restraint and overeating this interaction has not received intensive study. Furthermore, studies which have attempted to assess this relationship have not investigated the possible independent and interactive influences each of these factors might have on dietary habits. In the current study, the effects of dietary restraint, disinhibition, and stress on nutritional intake were examined through a 2 (High/Low Restraint) x 2 (High/Low Disinhibition) x 2 (High/Low Stress Condition) factorial design. Higher levels of restraint were associated with pathological scores on some eating disorder measures and a history of repeated dieting, but not on most nutritional variables. In contrast, high disinhibition was related to pathological scores on some eating disorder measures, personality characteristics associated with eating disorders, a history of maladaptive eating habits and higher weights, a higher fat intake, a larger percentage of fat in the diet and binging. Also, the interactive effects of restraint, disinhibition and stress were shown to place subjects at the highest risk for binge episodes. These results call into question many of the basic predictions made by restraint theory. The current data suggest that disinhibition has independent influences on overeating irrespective of the degree of restraint present.