Eating disorder-related social comparison in college women's everyday lives

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24 Scopus citations


Objective: This study examined: frequency of upward and downward body, eating, and exercise comparisons; context in which these comparisons occur; and body, eating, and exercise comparison direction as predictors of concurrent body dissatisfaction and disordered eating thoughts, urges, and behaviors in college women's everyday lives using ecological momentary assessment (EMA). Method: Participants were 232 college women who completed a two-week EMA protocol, using their personal electronic devices to answer questions three times per day. Results: First, body, eating, and exercise comparisons were common. Second, when these comparisons were made, they were typically upward. Third, body comparisons were most oftentimes made about weight and shape and eating comparisons about healthiness and amount of food. Exercise comparisons were made on a wider variety of dimensions. Fourth, most body and eating comparisons were made with strangers and close friends, respectively, while exercise comparisons were made with a variety of individuals. Upward comparisons were usually made with acquaintances and strangers. Fifth, results shed light on where college women compare themselves. Sixth, upward comparisons were found to have negative consequences, and downward comparisons were generally not found to have a buffering effect on eating pathology. Discussion: Results suggest targeting not only body but also eating and exercise comparisons in intervention. Also, prevention/intervention approaches should not promote engagement in downward comparisons, as they were not found to be protective and were even harmful at times. Clinicians should be attuned to the categories on which, with whom, and where college women are most likely to compare.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)893-905
Number of pages13
JournalInternational Journal of Eating Disorders
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2017


  • college students
  • disordered eating
  • eating disorder
  • ecological momentary assessment
  • social comparison


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