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Body Image Type Linked to Diet and Exercise Patterns

Four women exercise in a room with large windows.
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A new study based on survey data has identified four types of women with different levels of positive and negative body image and has linked each to different diet and exercise patterns.

Body image types identified

The study, published in Body Image, used measures of body shame, body appreciation and body mass index (BMI) from over 1,200 Australian women to identify four body image types: appreciative, medium shame, high shame and average.

The researchers, from La Trobe University, Flinders University, Victoria University and Melbourne University, found that dietary restraint and exercise amount differed significantly between body image types.

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Women with high shame had the greatest eating concerns and lowest exercise, and women with an appreciative body image type typically presented with low levels of eating concerns and healthy levels of exercise.

The link between body image type and health behaviors

“We know that people who appreciate their bodies also engage in a greater range of health behaviors… and that people who feel weight shame or stigma engage in less health behaviors and are more likely to gain weight over time,” said Dr. Ivanka Prichard, associate professor at Flinders University and study co-author.

Prichard believes that body image types could help inform health and fitness professionals to tailor the way that they might work with different people.

“For instance, someone who is already body confident would benefit from a ‘light touch’ intervention that supports ongoing health behaviors and continues to encourage exercise for health, fitness and enjoyment. In contrast, those with high levels of body shame, which our research shows exercise less than other groups of women, will need more support to be active. These individuals would benefit from inclusive exercise spaces and communities that promote gratitude and appreciation for where someone's body is at and what it can do and a culture of non-judgement,” Prichard said.

“Much is still unknown about the connection between these differing body image experiences," said Dr. Anita Raspovic, associate professor at La Trobe University, and study co-author, "it is critical that we develop deep understandings of the relationships between body image, behaviors and health outcomes, to inform public health prevention and intervention efforts.”

Reference: Raspovic A, Prichard I, Salim A, Yager Z, Hart L. Body image profiles combining body shame, body appreciation and body mass index differentiate dietary restraint and exercise amount in women. Body Image. 2023;46:117-122. doi: 10.1016/j.bodyim.2023.05.007

This article is a rework of a press release issued by Flinders University and La Trobe University. Material has been edited for length and content.