Eating disorders are a collection of mental health conditions characterized by a dysfunctional relationship between…
Body Dissatisfaction Among Women Predicts Risk For Eating Disorders
Most women care about how they look. It is natural for women to diet a bit, to watch their weight, to push themselves to exercise, and to decline some foods. So how do friends and family know whether she is just trying to keep a healthy weight and stay trim or whether she is so dissatisfied with her body that she is at risk for an eating disorder?
Between 3 and 8 percent of women develop eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia, or other unhealthy habits designated as disordered eating. Scientists are finding clues as to how to tell when a woman may be at risk for an eating disorder in order to help keep these women from developing a disorder that could injure their health for the rest of their lives.
An eating disorder may begin with body dissatisfaction, but Tracy Tylka, assistant professor of psychology at Ohio State University, says that body dissatisfaction alone is not enough to signal the risk for an eating disorder. Tylka’s study, published in the Journal of Counseling Psychology, revealed that women who were obsessed with monitoring the appearance of their bodies showed the greatest risk of developing a disorder.
Tylka said that women surveyed their bodies as though they were mere objects that needed to be perfected. They checked the mirror often and made their decisions as to whether they were “fit” by their appearance only. Two other studies involving nearly 400 women reached the same conclusions.
One study at the University of Wurzburg in Germany found that researchers could predict a woman’s risk of developing an eating disorder by her reaction to weight and body image words. Researchers found an accelerated heart rate and a startle response of fear and avoidance of the words in the women who had eating disorders compared to those with no eating disorders.
The women who were most anxious and disturbed by the body image words exhibited symptoms of dissatisfaction of body image, excessive exercising and intense dieting.
Women who constantly scrutinize their body shape and image may be at risk for an eating disorder, but other influences may also predict a risk. Tylka says that if a family or a friend of a woman has an eating disorder, it heightens her risk of also developing one. If a woman is an anxious, nervous, or self-conscious person, it also heightens her risk. Alone, these symptoms may not harm someone, but Tylka says that together they could identify a woman who may be at risk for an eating disorder.
Future studies on startle responses about body image and on body surveillance could yield more answers to help find ways to prevent women from developing eating disorders.