Public Release: 

Emotions can help predict future eating disorders

Elhuyar Fundazioa

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IMAGE: This is Aitziber Pascual Jimeno from the University of the Basque Country. view more

Credit: Aitziber Pascual Jimeno

This release is available in Spanish.

A Ph.D. thesis at the University of the Basque Country has analyzed the role played by a number of emotional variables, such as the way in which negative emotions are controlled or attitudes to emotional expression, and to use these variables as tools to predict the possibility of suffering an eating disorder.

The author of the thesis, Ms. Aitziber Pascual Jimeno, presented her work under the title, Emotions and emotional control in eating disorders: predictor role and emotional profiles. Ms Pascual is a graduate in Psychology and carried out her thesis under Ms Itziar Etxebarria Bilbao and Ms María Soledad Cruz Sáez, from the Department of Basic Psychological Processes and their Development at the Faculty of Psychology of the UPV/EHU. She is currently working as a lecturer at the University.

This work focused on two objectives: to find out if certain emotional variables play an significant role in the development of these disorders; and to know in more detail the emotional profiles, both of women at risk of contracting an eating disorder as well as of those already suffering from one.

To this end, the following emotional variables have been specified: those relative to emotional experience --the frequency of positive and negative emotions, anxiety, low self-esteem and the influence of diet, weight and the body shape on the emotional state--; negative perception of emotions, negative attitude to emotional expression, alexithymia --the inability to identify own emotions and to express them verbally-- and the manner of controlling negative emotions.

Moreover, another variable has also been taken into account: the need for control. This variable is not strictly emotional, but has a clear emotional component, given that people with a high need for control, experience anxiety and unwellness when perceiving lack of control.

Study of women

In order to undertake the study, 433 women took part; 143 of these suffered from some kind of eating disorder and 145 in risk of contracting one. The results of the study show that, in general, the majority of the variables put forward can be used as predictive of suffering an eating disorder. The variables which, above all, alert to greater risk of developing an eating disorder are when the emotional state of the person is excessively influenced by diet, weight and body shape, when self-esteem is low, and when, in anxiety situations, emotions are not expressed and the person tends to act in an impulsive manner.

These results have important implications, above all when drawing up prevention programmes for eating disorders. With the data obtained, it can be said that many of the emotional variables dealt with in Ms Pascual's work should be taken into account when drawing up these prevention programmes.

Serious illnesses

Eating disorders are very serious illnesses that have dire consequences for the sufferer, both physically as well as psychologically and socially, and there are disorders that are evermore widespread. Much research has been undertaken in order to find out the factors involved in their development, but the role played by the various emotional variables at the onset of these disorders has hardly been investigated. This thesis presented at the UPV/EHU focused on this matter more deeply.

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