Study: Understanding Eating Behavior to Define Eating Styles

by Dana Notte, MS, RD, CD

Many women come to Green Mountain at Fox Run for similar reasons – they are tired of fighting their weight, feel out of control with food, and/or don’t understand why they can’t make the lifestyle changes that they know would benefit their health, and that they truly want to make.

Over the last 44 years Green Mountain has worked to help women make sense of their eating behavior, stop fighting their bodies, and make peace with food.

Throughout the years, several eating behavior themes have emerged from the stories we’ve heard from the many women who walk through our doors. Certain eating behaviors and beliefs about food often occur together. And understanding how these different behaviors and beliefs can be grouped together has been really valuable for informing specific strategies for changing eating behaviors.  

From this information came Green Mountain at Fox Run’s framework of six eating styles – skillful, chaotic, diet mentality, emotional, disconnected/habitual, and dazed & confused. We developed a questionnaire to help participants identify their eating style(s), which has since been used as a teaching tool to bring clarity to eating behaviors and generate conversation about how to use this information to make lasting change.  

Because this exercise has proven to be so useful for teaching in our program, we wanted to see what it would take to turn this informal teaching tool into a validated eating styles questionnaire. One that could eventually be used to not only inform intervention strategies, but also collect outcomes data.  

A joint research study, conducted by a University of Vermont Master of Science in Dietetics student and Green Mountain at Fox Run, was the first step in that process.  

Between mid-November 2016 and mid-February 2017, a modified version of the questionnaire was distributed to approximately 185 incoming participants. The questionnaire aimed to capture information about how participants identified with the eating styles currently defined by GMFR and collect feedback on factors that influence eating behavior not represented in the existing survey.  

Fifty-nine surveys were completed in full and returned, for a response rate of approximately 32%. And the initial results are very promising.  

Statistical analysis show that: 

  1. The measures of five of the six eating styles had strong internal consistency. This means that, with the exception of the chaotic eating style, the survey questions used to measure each eating style were consistent in measuring a single eating style construct. 

  2. An analytic technique called ‘exploratory factor analysis’ was used to identify the underlying relationships between the survey questions, and thus determine the number and nature of the main eating style constructs. Results revealed six distinct eating styles, including three that corresponded with a diet mentality, emotional eating, and the dazed and confused eating styles.

    This means we still have some work to do to figure out how to best define and measure the remaining eating styles, but these results are very encouraging given the relatively small sample size. 

  3. Finally, there were significant, negative correlations between the skillful eating style with the chaotic, diet mentality, emotional, and disconnected/habitual eating styles (but not the dazed and confused style). This suggests people who scored higher on the skillful eating style tended to score lower on the other, less health-supportive, eating styles as we expected.

Other factors that contribute to eating behavior that emerged but may not be captured well in the current survey tool include: food access and availability, financial constraints, medical conditions, preoccupation with food, and eating out of boredom. 

Green Mountain at Fox Run is committed to helping women create lasting change in their eating behaviors. Tools such as this can be useful to facilitate that process, by providing clarity to the participant as to what underlies her eating behaviors and useful information to the practitioner about how to develop effective interventions.   

We are encouraged by these initial results and look forward to continuing to develop a comprehensive eating styles assessment tool.  


To learn more about this study, please contact Dana Notte at dana.notte@fitwoman.com.

Green Mountain at Fox Run also offers professional training weekends to help professionals implement this framework into their practices. Learn more here

Questions? We can help.


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