Link between eating disorders and certain personality traits

Among the young women diagnosed as having anorexia or bulimia, 48.5% also suffer from a personality disorder.

This is one of the conclusions of a study conducted by scientists at the Universitat Jaume I which intends to unveil whether there is any link between eating disorders and certain personality traits.

Finding an answer to this enigma may be of prime importance for several reasons. One of them is prevention since discovering a relationship between eating and personality disorders may help detect problems beforehand in people who are particularly vulnerable to developing anorexia or bulimia given certain traits of their personality.

Another reason is related to the treatment of these pathologies. Even though treatments are effective, the percentage of relapses is still high. Being able to unravel and understand how personality disorders influence the tendency to relapse can also help increase the treatment’s chances of success.

With these objectives in mind, the researchers at the Department of Basic and Clinic Psychology and Psychobiology analysed the personality of 150 young women aged 24 on average, who were distributed into three different groups. A first group was made up of young women diagnosed as having purging-type bulimia nervosa (60%) and purging-type anorexia nervosa (40%); a second group was formed by participants who, even though they were not ill, showed restrictive eating behaviours; finally, the third was a control group.

“What we observed was that 48.5% of participants from the first group, that is, women with anorexia or bulimia nervosa, fit the criteria of a personality disorder”, comments Azucena García Palacios, principal investigator of the study. The most frequent pathological personality patterns were those of an avoidant and self-destructive type. Since these patterns are accompanied by eating disorders, they can play a significant role in the failure of treatments for anorexia and bulimia”.

“This result supports the increasingly widespread idea of the need to design and validate programmes for treating eating behaviour disorders which include components and strategies aimed to treat the personality pathology”, add the authors.

As for the participants from the second group (made up of healthy young women but who show certain restrictive eating behaviours that can be understood as a prelude to anorexia or bulimia), they obtained significantly higher scores than the control group participants as far as the eating and personality pathology was concerned. In other words, these women had certain pathological personality traits in addition to a certain tendency to control their calorie intake.

“An important detail to take into account is the fact that suffering from a personality pathology has a high predictive value with respect to the seriousness, the comorbidity with other disorders such as those of mood, the record of suicide attempts, or the number of psychiatric hospitalisations, as well as response to treatment”, the researchers conclude.

In addition to Azucena García, the other researchers in the study include Cristina Botella, Adoración Reyes Moliner and Soledad Quero, all of them from the Universitat Jaume I’s Department of Basic and Clinical Psychology and Psychobiology. Rosa Baños and Conxa Perpiñà, from the Universitat de València and professional staff from the PREVI Clinical Centre in Valencia, who are specialists in the treatment of eating behaviour disorders, have also participated in the study.

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