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Pride about weight loss fuels anorexia

Harold Mandel's picture
Weight Loss and Anorexia

Reports about anorexia are frightening and make it appear as if this problem is from some type of fictional horror story. However, although the exact causes of anorexia are not well understood and treatment plans often meet with failure, the devastating wasting away from anorexia is for real and is life threatening. Recent reseach has shown that anorexia is actually fueled by pride about losing weight.

There is nothing that tastes better than being thin for someone suffering from anorexia

For someone suffering from anorexia there is nothing that tastes better than being thin reported Psychological Science. There has not been a great deal of research into positive emotion and anorexia nervosa. However, it has been observed low positive emotion may contribute to positive emotion dysregulation in anorexia. In other words low positive emotion differentiation may interact with elevated positive emotion intensity to both motivate and reinforce weight-loss behavior in people struggling with anorexia.

Anorexia is actually fueled by pride which is associated with losing weight

What we are seeing is that anorexia is actually fueled by pride which is associated with losing weight reports Rutgers University. Anorexia has a death rate which is 12 times higher for females between the ages of 15 and 24 than all other causes of death together. Positive emotions may play an exacerbating role in fueling eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa.

Edward Selby, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Rutgers University, measured the emotional states of 118 women between the ages of 18-58 who were being treated for anorexia nervosa. What he found was that the women suffering from anorexia suffered from negative emotions and they also felt positive emotions surrounding having a sense of pride over being able to lose weight and stay thin.

Positive emotions become exaggerated which are actually rewarding maladaptive behaviors

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Selby said it appears positive emotions become exaggerated which are actually rewarding these maladaptive behaviors. Because only about one-third of women recover after treatment Selby feels it is important to gain a better understanding of why these positive emotions become so strongly associated with weight loss instead of with healthy associations such as family or relationships. Women in this study who had the most difficulty understanding how to recognize when positive emotions were becoming skewed were observed to engage in more frequent anorexia-type behaviors which included:

1: Vomiting

2: Laxative use

3: Restricting calories

4: Excessive exercise

5: Checking body fat

Constant weight checks

It is felt that much of the positive reinforcement which may lead women with anorexia to feel positive about their situation could be due to “Pro-Anorexic” websites where it is not unusual for people suffering with anorexia to be congratulated for their control and courage in obtaining extreme degrees of weight loss. This association between positive emotions and weight-loss behaviors becomes a vicious cycle for some women with anorexia who continue to lose weight even after their initial goals are met.

Clearly anorexia is a very devastating condition which can be lethal. Selby is absolutely right to encourage more research to find a way to redirect positive emotions associated with emaciation to activities which are healthy. It's a good idea to search for ways to reconnect the positive emotions these women feel in losing weight to other aspects of their lives which have the potential to lead to a more balanced sense of happiness and health.

Photograph sattva/Freedigitalphotos.net