Exploring an embodiment model of intuitive eating and attunement with exercise: The mediating role of intrinsic motivation

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Psychological well-being is fostered when individuals are in touch with their body's internal needs and accept those needs without judgment. In contrast, psychological distress occurs when individuals ignore or denounce their body's needs when they do not align with external pressures and are geared toward fulfilling societal expectations (Rogers, 1961). Examples of this process are when individuals choose to modify their eating and exercise based on sociocultural appearance ideals (e.g., dieting, rigid exercise) rather than pay attention to what foods and movement their body needs. Paying attention and listening to the body's needs for nourishment and movement are fundamental components of intuitive eating and attunement with exercise. The concept of listening to the body coincides with the theoretical approach, embodiment, which encompasses how one engages their body with the world (Piran, 2019). Embodiment provides insight into the level of connection and understanding that one has with their body. Embodiment may encourage intrinsic (internal) motivation, which could mediate, or connect the extent one is positively embodied with their engagement in intuitive eating and attuned exercise behaviors. Conversely, embodiment may be inversely related to extrinsic (external) motivation, which could mediate the extent one is negatively embodied with their disordered eating and dysfunctional exercise behaviors. The purpose of this study was to explore these models and to determine whether the strength of their pathways differ for women and men. It was hypothesized that (a) embodiment would be positively associated with intrinsic motivation, intuitive eating, and attuned exercise and (b) intrinsic motivation would mediate the relationship from embodiment to intuitive eating and attuned exercise. It was also hypothesized that (c) embodiment would be negatively associated with extrinsic motivation, disordered eating, and dysfunctional exercise and (d) extrinsic motivation would mediate the relationship from embodiment to disordered eating and dysfunctional exercise. Given that women experience increased external pressures to align with sociocultural appearance ideals more so than men (Linardon, Tylka, & Fuller-Tyszkiewicz, 2021), it was hypothesized that (e) gender would moderate these associations. To test these hypotheses, 571 participants (U.S. adult community members on Prolific Academic) completed a survey through Qualtrics, which included the Intuitive Eating Scale-3 (IES-3), Experience of Embodiment Scale (EES), Attunement with Exercise Scale-Clinical (AWE-C), Dutch Eating Behaviors Questionnaire-Restraint Scale (DEBQRestraint), and Global Motivation Scale (GMS). The sample consisted of 274 female, 280 male, and 17 nonbinary participants (76.2% white, 23.8% minority) who had an average age of 36 (SD = 12). Most hypotheses were supported. There were significant correlations between embodiment, intuitive eating, and attunement with exercise; however, intrinsic motivation did not mediate these associations. Embodiment has such a strong correlation with intuitive eating and attunement with exercise, that it does not leave much margin for intrinsic motivation to mediate these associations. Further, there were significant correlations between embodiment, disordered eating, and dysfunctional exercise. For women, extrinsic motivation had a significant correlation between extrinsic motivation mediating women's disorder eating and dysfunctional exercise. This aligns with previous studies that women receive more scrutiny and societal pressures regarding their appearance.


Human Experience (The Ohio State University Denman Undergraduate Research Forum)


Embodiment, Motivation, Intuitive Eating, Attunement with Exercise