Dietary restraint, defined as the cognitive effort to restrict eating, can paradoxically make individuals more susceptible to unhealthy eating when their ability to self-regulate is threatened. Past experiments have found that, in situations that elicit low self-control and/or unhealthy cravings, participants with higher dietary restraint eat more than those with lower restraint. However, these relationships have never been examined in a free-living environment. The current daily diary study examined if dietary restraint would exacerbate the associations between poor self-control and unhealthy cravings with overconsumption, namely, eating more than usual and binge eating. College women (N = 121, M age = 19) reported their restrained eating behavior and completed seven daily surveys. Multilevel analyses showed a significant interaction between dietary restraint and daily self-control on eating more than usual (b = -0.13, p = .001) and binge eating (b = -0.22, p < .001). Lower daily self-control was associated with eating more than usual and with more binge eating that day, but only among women with higher dietary restraint. Dietary restraint also moderated the effect of cravings on eating more than usual (b = 0.10, p = .007); this relationship was stronger for women with higher restraint. Stronger cravings were associated with more binge eating regardless of restraint. Results suggest that situations that undermine self-control are more strongly associated with overeating among those with higher dietary restraint. Findings can inform strategies to reduce overconsumption among restrained eaters.
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