At the Root of Eating Disorders

Eating disorders can develop from a discrepancy between ideal body image and perfectionism

(RxWiki News) Eating disorders are complex. Unraveling this complexity may be key to effective treatment. Body image issues may only be part of the issue. Perfectionism may also play a big role.

A recent study asked a group of women to self-report on ideal body images and multiple facets of perfectionism. Researchers found that eating disorders were linked to greater concerns over perfectionism and smaller ideal body figures.

Treatments for eating disorders may improve if they could account for patients' attitudes towards body image and perfectionism.

"Seek treatment for any eating disorder symptoms."

Tracey Wade, PhD, and Marika Teggemann, PhD, professor in the School of Psychology at Finders University in Australia, worked together to investigate the role of perfectionism in people with eating disorders based on body dissatisfaction.

For the study, 1,083 women, 28 to 40 years of age, gave self-reports on perfectionism, weight, height, desired weight, current body figure and ideal body figure.

The self-reports on perfectionism looked at six constructs of perfectionism: setting of personal standards, concern over making mistakes, doubting one’s own actions, parental expectations, parental criticism and organization and neatness.

The self-reports on current and ideal body figures were based on several silhouette images in the report from which the participants could choose both the ones that represented their actual bodies and the ones that represented their ideal body shapes.

Researchers looked at the difference between current body weight and desired body weight, and difference between current body figure and ideal body figure, to determine body dissatisfaction.

Results of the study showed that lower desired body weight was associated with higher levels of concern over mistakes and organization. Also, smaller ideal body figures were associated with higher levels of concern over mistakes and doubt about actions and organization.

“These findings suggest that perfectionism is pertinent to the normative state of body dissatisfaction," the authors said. "Given the role of body dissatisfaction in increasing risk for disordered eating, this suggests that targeting perfectionism may be of benefit in buffering young people against the development of disordered eating."

The authors concluded that prevention and treatment for eating disorders should take into account the different dimensions between perfectionism to body dissatisfaction.

The greatest limitation of this study was the average age of the participants, which was 35 years of age. Eating disorders often begin in adolescent years.

Ideals of body image and attitudes towards perfectionism were found to be relevant to eating disorders in this study.

This study was published in January in the Journal of Eating Disorders.

The National Health and Medical Research Council provided funding for this project. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Review Date: 
January 21, 2013