Interpersonal Issues and Eating Disorders

In addition to the disordered eating behavior patterns that characterize an eating disorder, anorexia and bulimia nervosa also often carry with them a burden of shame and isolation. Those suffering from the disorders hide their disordered behaviors, making excuses for awkward disappearances after mealtimes or not participating in mealtimes at all.

Hiding an eating disorder requires a great deal of secrecy, creating social barriers between the person with the disorder and loved ones. Individuals with an eating disorder may distance themselves from those who may notice a problem if they are allowed any insight into the daily efforts to control weight levels.

A unique study recently examined the interpersonal problems that exist among eating disorder patients. Previous research has shown that those with eating disorders consistently report problems with social interactions. The study sought to understand the range of interpersonal problems in patients with various types of eating disorders both before and after they participated in an intensive hospital-based treatment program.
The researchers recruited a total of 208 participants who had been diagnosed with restrictive anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa or anorexia nervosa of the binge/purging-subtype. The participants were examined for eating pathology, symptom severity and interpersonal patterns, both before and after treatment.
The results of the study showed that there was a pattern exhibited among patients with eating disorders when it came to interpersonal relationships. Patients with eating disorders tended to display a nonassertive, submissive interpersonal style. Patients diagnosed with anorexia of the binge/purging-subtype exhibiting more difficulties with social inhibition and nonaffiliation.
The patterns discovered among the patients were not constant, but changed over the course of the treatment. The interpersonal problems assessed at intake were predictive of greater binge severity at the time of patient discharge. In addition, certain interpersonal problems with dominance and social avoidance predicted the outcome for some subgroups of patients enrolled in the study.
The studyrsquo;s results highlight the importance of understanding interpersonal challenges among patients diagnosed with eating disorders. Training patients to be successful in relationships may aid them in their recovery and reduce relapse rates after treatment is completed.
The findings of the study are helpful in understanding the complex strategies necessary to treat eating disorders and prevent relapse. Developing a treatment program that addresses the root issues of the whole person, rather than simply treating particular symptoms, may help eating disorder patients transition to healthy eating patterns.

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