Eating disorders have often been linked to extreme behaviors used to control caloric intake. Methods like avoiding meals, extreme exercise, and taking laxatives or purging are all behaviors associated with eating disorders.
A new study, however, shows that what most people consider to be normal behavior may be a destructive pattern leading to a higher risk of developing an eating disorder. The research shows that regular dieting may lead to an increased likelihood of developing an eating disorder.
The research was conducted by researchers at Lewisham Counselling and Counsellor Associates and was presented at the 17th Annual BACP Research Conference in Liverpool this month. Led by Kamilah Tomlinson and Natasha Boxill, the study showed how socially acceptable dieting to improve appearance can lead to an unhealthy obsession with weight.
The findings of the study showed that people who diet often can become obsessed with their weight, which is a major identifying factor of the three most commonly diagnosed eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating.
The study of the counseling center’s clients showed that individuals who diet solely to lose weight show evidence of low self-esteem. Once dieting begins, feelings of low self-esteem become more closely tied with physical appearance, with increasing focus on losing weight rather than addressing underlying self-esteem issues. The same clients tend to use dieting as a tool to improve their lives.
The clients who diet often reach their ideal weight, only to immediately and rapidly regain weight, often topping out at a weight higher than their original weight before dieting. This phenomenon is appearance-centered and socially acceptable, stemming from pressures from the media and celebrity-focused culture.
The researchers caution that counselors and psychotherapists need to be aware of the close ties between low self-esteem, dieting and eating disorders. Because regular dieting is so often considered a normal part of life, those who have plummeted to a low weight and then raced back up to a higher weight may go unnoticed by friends, family and even healthcare professionals.
When a person has lost weight and then quickly regained it, with low self-esteem as an underlying major issue, the cycle of weight loss and gain may only amplify self-esteem problems.
This study adds to the growing information beginning to be known about the widely varying factors that contribute to the development of an eating disorder.