Is It More Than An Eating Disorder?

Personality disorders in eating disorder patients may not be as common as once thought

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Eating disorders are complex issues that can happen in people with other psychological conditions. Although, having an eating disorder and a personality disorder may be uncommon.

A recent study tested a group of eating disorder patients for personality disorder symptoms.

The results of the study showed that 21 percent of eating disorder patients also had a personality disorder.

These findings were not consistent with other studies that showed higher rates of personality disorders among eating disorder patients.

"Visit a therapist for any eating disorder symptoms."

Astrid von Lojewski, PhD, from the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Sydney in Australia, worked with psychologists in the Department of Psychological Medicine at the Northside Clinic in Australia to assess personality disorders in eating disorder patients.

For the study, 132 female eating disorder patients were examined for symptoms of personality disorders. The eating disorders diagnosed in these patients included anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder defined by a compulsion to restrict calories and/or over-exercise to achieve and maintain being underweight. Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder defined by episodes of binge-eating followed by vomiting or abusing laxatives to purge the contents of the binge-eating session.

Personality disorders include a wide spectrum of mental health conditions that are defined by patterns of behaviors, thoughts or emotions that interfere with a person’s ability to function in social and work situations. Examples of personality disorders include, but are not limited to, antisocial, dependent, histrionic, borderline, narcissistic, obsessive-compulsive and avoidant personality disorders.

People with antisocial personality disorder can be very manipulative and have a tendency to exploit or violate the rights of others. Antisocial behavior is often expressed through criminal activity.

People with dependent personality disorder depend on other people to take care of them both emotionally and physically.

People with histrionic personality disorder tend to draw attention to themselves by creating drama through overly emotional reactions.

People with borderline personality disorder have a history of unstable emotions and impulsive actions. 

People with narcissistic personality disorder show a lack of empathy for others as they focus mostly on themselves.

People with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder are driven by a need for order and control.

People with avoidant personality disorder have a history of shyness, low self-worth and being overly sensitive to rejection.

After examining each patient, the researchers determined that 21 percent of the patients definitely had a personality disorder and an additional 16 percent of patients probably had a personality disorder.

Of patients with a personality disorder:

  • 25 percent had avoidant personality disorder
  • 9 percent had obsessive-compulsive personality disorder
  • 2 percent had dependent personality disorder
  • 13 percent had borderline personality disorder
  • 2 percent had histrionic personality disorder

Histrionic, narcissistic and antisocial personality disorders were more commonly found in bulimia nervosa patients.

Previous studies on eating disorder patients have shown between 27 to 95 percent of those patients also had personality disorders. While this study was done on a relatively small group, the authors found personality disorders to also exist in only 21 percent of eating disorder patients.

The authors concluded that avoidant personality disorder was the most common personality disorder found in eating disorder patients. In addition, patients who made themselves vomit were more likely to have borderline personality disorder symptoms.

The authors concluded that further studies need to be done to determine the risk of personality disorders in eating disorder patients and how treatment plans should use that information.

This study was published in February in Psychopathology.

No outside funding was used for this project. No conflicts of interest were declared.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
February 25, 2013
Last Updated:
March 2, 2013