International body image and eating behavior research informs Ohio State Marion professor's teaching

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Dr. Tylka regularly conducts research on body image and eating behavior from Ohio State Marion

How do we eat? And why?  Taking nourishment is one of life’s basic functions.  But the role eating plays in self-esteem, body image and psychological and physical health are the topics that inspire the research of Dr. Tracy Tylka, Associate Professor of Psychology at The Ohio State University at Marion.

It was the obsessive dieting of an older sibling that first sparked Dr. Tylka’s interest in diet and body image.

“I saw a lot of her inner qualities being squelched by her total focus on her appearance,” she said.

Since then, “I’ve seen it over and over again.  Women lose their energy when they focus so much on losing weight.  So my work focuses on, how we can foster health, independent of weight,” Tylka explained.

Dr. Tylka’s research has led to dozens of articles in journals such as Body Image, Journal of Counseling Psychology, and Psychology of Women Quarterly.  She is co-author of a new book due for publication in April 2013 titled Healthy eating and body acceptance:  Cultivating a positive school environment.

Teaching at one of Ohio State’s smaller campuses doesn’t lessen the expectation of a robust research schedule.  In fact, her research informs Dr. Tylka’s teaching.

“I’m passionate about my research,” she said. “Discussing my research with students allows me to supplement what’s in the textbook and bring course material to life in the classroom.”

Dr. Tylka won Ohio State’s Distinguished Teaching Award in 2008.  She teaches classes on Positive Psychology, Abnormal Psychology, Psychology of Gender, Personality, Eating Behavior, Counseling Psychology, and General Psychology.
Since her arrival on the Ohio State Marion campus in 2001, Dr. Tylka has had the opportunity to teach at larger campuses, but opted to stay in Marion.

“I really like the small atmosphere.  I like the fact that I can interact with students in my classes, as it enriches class discussion.”

According to Tylka, if she worked in a setting where she was teaching hundreds of students at a time, instead of 20 or 30, her “whole teaching style would have to change.”

“I wouldn’t get to know my students like I get to know them here,” Tylka explained.  “I really enjoy knowing I’m making a difference in helping them along and figuring out what they want to do.”

Dr. Tylka is part of a National Institutes of Health research study aimed at helping children better recognize their hunger cues.  Working with other researchers at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Dr. Tylka is trying to learn why some children lose the ability to recognize when they are full and help them detect their satiety signals.  In some cases, she said, good-natured parental instructions to “eat a little more,” “eat a little less,” and “clean your plate” disrupt a child’s natural ability to recognize internal hunger and satiety cues.

The team has developed a series of dolls to help children recognize various states of fullness in an effort to re-regulate their hunger and satiety cues.  The research team also works with parents and has developed a six-week intervention where parents learn about the “trust model.”  In that model, nutritious food is provided at regular times and places and parents learn to trust their children to decide what to eat and how much.  At the end of the three-year project, Dr. Tylka and her team hope to develop an approach that can be used by dieticians across the country in an effort to foster health among children.

When reflecting on her career in teaching and her research, Dr. Tylka remembers her father’s advice:  “Tracy,” he said, “do what you love and it won’t ever feel like you’re at work.”  That’s exactly what she’s doing in her research and teaching at The Ohio State University at Marion.

“I’m passionate about them both,” Tylka concluded.

More information on Ohio State Marion faculty research

Read the full text of Dr. Tracy Tylka's interview