Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Suzanne Kurth

Committee Members

Marla Peterson


Initially, eating disorders in women were conceptualized as diseases caused by abnormalities within the individual: genetic predispositions, physiological abnormalities, psychological pathology, and consequences of family dysfunction. More recent etiological models emphasize the influence of sociocultural forces which help create and maintain the phenomena. Research on the biological and psychological effects of dieting and starvation, as well as an examination of the traditionally accepted ideals for women illuminate how dysfunctional eating behaviors are learned and perpetuated. Establishing the role of culture and learned behaviors and attitudes introduces the appropriateness of and need for prevention programs which challenge prevailing cultural assumptions. Examination of previously studied prevention programs shows the need for the programs' content to be soundly based on a theoretical viewpoint that emphasizes these factors. Such a programming format provides the opportunity to deconstruct myths of dieting and other weight loss behaviors, and to introduce alternative attitudes and behaviors for women. Three groups of eight to twelve college sorority women participated in three week workshops on eating behaviors and attitudes. The three one hour weekly sessions built on feminist collaborative tenets involved dissemination of information, group exercises, and open discussion. Participants completed three scales of the Eating Disorders Inventory (EDI-2), the Eating Attitudes Test (EAT), and an Attitude Scale and Behavior Scale before and after participation to assess whether statistically significant changes occurred in participants' levels of knowledge, their attitudes, and their behaviors. A follow-up assessment one month later measured the resiliency of any such changes. Paired tests showed participants' scores on the EDI-2's Drive for Thinness scale, and the Attitude and Behavior Scales to be significantly lower after the completion of the program. In their open ended evaluations of the program participants reported an increased awareness of the negative effects of dieting and decreased likelihood of dieting. Follow-up scores showed statistically significant reductions on all measures except the Behavior Scale, but few participated in follow-up. These results suggest the effectiveness of conducting a prevention program based on feminist principles that allows participants the opportunity to challenge beliefs and begin establishing new behaviors within an environment of respect and empowerment.

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