Background

LOC eating is associated with obesity and eating disorders. Theoretical models suggest that body image concerns, dietary restraint and emotion dysregulation are the primary precursors to LOC eating. However, existing models have not been closely scrutinized in men, though men report LOC eating at similar rates to women, nor do they consider factors that may be unique to men’s experiences.

Methods

The current study evaluated the link between body image concerns, including concerns with both fat and muscularity, and LOC eating frequency in 1109 ethnically/racially diverse young men (18-30y; Mage=24.1±3.6y). Emotion dysregulation, dietary restraint, and exercise dependence symptoms (EDS) were evaluated as potential mediators. Participants completed online surveys assessing these variables. Path analyses in Mplus tested indirect paths using joint significance tests and bias-corrected confidence bounds.

Results

Higher levels of muscularity concerns were linked to greater emotion dysregulation and EDS, whereas fat concerns were directly linked to more emotion dysregulation, dietary restraint, and EDS (ps<.01). The path from muscularity concerns to dietary constraint was not significant. More emotion dysregulation, dietary restraint, and EDS were directly linked to higher LOC eating frequency (ps<.01). Higher levels of muscularity concerns were indirectly linked to higher LOC eating frequency through greater emotion dysregulation (p<.001). No other indirect effects of muscularity concerns were significant. Higher levels of fat concerns were indirectly linked to LOC eating frequency through more emotional dysregulation, dietary restraint, and EDS (ps<.01).

Conclusions

Body image concerns are associated with LOC eating in young men. The pathways to LOC eating may differ depending on the nature of men’s concerns (i.e., muscularity vs. thinness) and these variations may inform targeted interventions for LOC eating. Prospective data are needed to verify these findings.