Past research has found that negative emotions like depression or anger fuel anorexia nervosa. New research shows that positive emotions, when distorted, also nurture the disease. Edward Selby, assistant professor in the Department of Psychology, School of Arts and Sciences at Rutgers led the team which found that a skewed positive emotion, like pride after weight loss, could be detrimental to recovering from anorexia.
Young women are the most vulnerable
Anorexia is a psychological disorder where a person has a distorted image of self, a fear of gaining weight and an obsession with losing weight. The disorder leads to numerous health problems and can cause death. The most vulnerable group is young women between 15 and 24 years of age. The death rate from anorexia in this group is 12 times higher than all other causes of death combined.
Happy and proud about deadly weight loss
During a two week period when 118 women with anorexia were observed and interviewed, they found that the women who had the most symptoms (laxative use, calorie restriction, constant body fat and weight checks, vomiting and excessive exercise) were also the ones who did not recognize that their positive emotions were being misapplied. They were happy about a weight loss that was killing them.
Positive emotions for maladaptive behaviors
“What we think happens is that positive emotions become exaggerated and are rewarding these maladaptive behaviors,” explained Selby. “Since only about one third of women recover after treatment, what we need to do is gain a better understanding of why these positive emotions become so strongly associated with weight loss rather than with a healthy association, such as family, school or relationships.”
“Being in control is important for many of these women,” noted Selby. “What we need to do is find a way to reconnect the positive emotions they feel in losing weight to other aspects of their lives that will lead to a more balanced sense of happiness.”
Source: MedicalNewsToday, Clinical Psychological Science