What are you dieting for? The role of lay theories in dieters' goal setting



Through a qualitative study of a sample of Weight Watchers dieters, this research provides insight about the relationship between goal setting and lay theories—people's basic assumptions about the malleability of their personal attributes. We find that dieters set very different types of superordinate and subordinate goals depending on the lay theory (entity vs. incremental) they hold. Dieters who hold entity theory, which underscores immutability of abilities, set superordinate goals focused on avoiding negative social evaluations. These dieters also seem to set subordinate goals that minimize effort in diet, physical activity, and the use of group meetings necessary for weight loss. Among dieters holding incremental theory, which emphasizes malleability of abilities through learning, weight loss is guided by superordinate goals that promote change in the self. Incremental-theory dieters also set subordinate goals that encourage rather than limit revamping lifestyle. These findings offer contributions to lay theories and goal setting in consumer research as well as implications for developing more successful weight-loss practices. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.