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Acta Psychologica Sinica    2020, Vol. 52 Issue (4) : 485-496     DOI: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2020.00485
Reports of Empirical Studies |
Friendship quality and adolescents’ intuitive eating: A serial mediation model and the gender difference
CHEN Ximei1,LUO Yijun1,CHEN Hong1,2,3()
1 School of Psychology, Southwest University, Chongqing 400715, China
2 Key Laboratory of Cognition and Personality (Ministry of Education), Southwest University, Chongqing 400715, China
3 Research Center of Psychology and Social Development in Chongqing, Chongqing 400715, China
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The majority of research on eating behaviors has been limited to an almost exclusive focus on pathology and is centered on the female group. Recently, one form of adaptive eating that has gained recognition is “intuitive eating”, which is defined as eating according to internal physiological cues of hunger and satiety rather than external or emotional signals. That is, individuals who eat intuitively are not preoccupied by food and dieting. They often choose food that helps their bodies function well and is pleasing to their palate. They do not ignore hunger cues or classify food into acceptable or unacceptable categories. Therefore, intuitive eating was found to be linked with greater unconditional self-regard and body satisfaction, as well as lower levels of both depression and disordered eating. Adolescence, in particular, acts as a critical period in the development of eating attitudes and behaviors. Adolescents devote a great deal of attention to physical appearance, and are inclined to engage in unhealthy eating behaviors to reduce an unsatisfactory body image; this has a negative impact on their physical and mental health. Due to these circumstances, it is essential to identify the key factors influencing adolescents’ healthy eating behaviors. Using the perspectives of attachment theory and the acceptance model of intuitive eating, this study aimed to investigate the effect of friendship quality on intuitive eating among Chinese adolescents, and the potential mediating role of self-compassion and positive body image on this association, as well as explore a possible gender difference. This research not only provides suggestions for parents and educators to increase adolescents’ intuitive eating, but it also identifies significant factors that influence intuitive eating in order to foster relevant practical prevention strategies and interventions.

Participants were 2438 students (M = 13.14 years, SD = 1.08) recruited from three middle schools (Grades 7 to 9) in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. There were 1162 girls (47.7%) and 1276 boys (52.3%). They completed a set of self-report measures on friendship quality, self-compassion, positive body image, and intuitive eating. All the measures have acceptable reliability and validity.

The results indicated that after controlling for age, gender, and body mass index, friendship quality was positively associated with intuitive eating. Self-compassion and positive body image mediated this association, which contained three significant mediating pathways: the separate mediating effects of (a) self-compassion and (b) positive body image, and the serial mediating effect of (c) self-compassion and positive body image. In addition, significant differences in mediating effects per gender were only found in the relationship between friendship quality and the dimensions of intuitive eating (“unconditional permission to eat” and “eating for physical rather than emotional reasons”).

Our findings highlight the relevance of friendship quality, self-compassion, and positive body image in the understanding of adolescents’ intuitive eating. This study suggests that parents should create a warm and friendly family atmosphere which will contribute to adolescents’ peer relationships and friendships. Educators should direct students to be compassionate toward their own shortcomings and failures to improve levels of body appreciation and body satisfaction. These factors will play important roles in promoting intuitive eating. Moreover, future interventions for intuitive eating should be designed to increase adolescents’ self-compassion and positive body image through effective intervention approaches and measures.

Keywords friendship quality      self-compassion      positive body image      intuitive eating      gender difference      adolescents     
:  B844  
Corresponding Authors: Hong CHEN     E-mail:
Issue Date: 25 February 2020
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CHEN Ximei,LUO Yijun,CHEN Hong. Friendship quality and adolescents’ intuitive eating: A serial mediation model and the gender difference[J]. Acta Psychologica Sinica,2020, 52(4): 485-496.
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