Worry and Eating Disorders

Reprinted from Eating Disorders Review
January/February 2006 Volume 17, Number 1
©2006 Gürze Books

The word “worry” comes from an Old English word, wurgen, to strangle or choke. The key feature of worry is the prevalence of negative thoughts, and individuals who worry think a lot about, and are afraid of, possible negative effects and events.

Recently a team of Italian psychologists set out to see if people with eating disorders worry significantly more than do those without eating disorders (Eat Behav 2005;6:301). According to the authors, this study was one of the first to investigate the association between worry levels and eating disorders. The team used the Penn State Worry Questionnaire, the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM (SCID), and the Eating Disorder Inventory (EDI) to assess 63 women with eating disorders (34 with anorexia nervosa and 29 with bulimia nervosa). Thirty normal control subjects, also women, completed the Penn State Worry Questionnaire.

Two questions

Two questions arose. First, could the patients themselves erroneously evaluate or even conceal their bulimic behaviors? Second, could they pay more attention to weight and body image than to binge eating and purging?

In eating disorders, a pervasive worry may lead some people to focus their attention upon weight, food, and size and shape. These elements may be the starting points of a typical web of worries, threatening predictions, and negative thoughts. Worry about food may also be a distraction from more terrifying preoccupations about self-esteem and interpersonal relations. In this study, the correlation between worry and the EDI subscales ‘interpersonal distrust’ and ‘maturity fears’ suggested that these two topics are also objects of worry.

According to the authors, it is plausible that fearful thoughts about adulthood and feelings of distrust toward other people occupy the minds of people with eating disorders and emerge as repetitive worry. The results of this small study confirmed the association between pathological worry and eating disorders, but did not investigate the exact role worry plays in eating disorders.

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