Uncertainty fear and eating disorders linked

November 16, 2011, Australian National University

People who fear the unknown or view uncertainty as especially negative or threatening are more likely to report symptoms of eating disorders, according to new ANU research.

Alice Heikkonen, a PhD researcher in the Department of Psychology, has been looking at women aged 18-30 and has found a significant link between eating disorder symptoms and intolerance of uncertainty.

“Specifically, uncertainty in many of the cases I studied included things like being unsure of the exact calorie content or composition of food or uncertainty about the impact foods may have on body ,” she said.

“People who have difficulty in these areas tend to be more concerned about their weight or shape, leading to habits like avoiding unfamiliar or new foods with unclear ingredients, or constantly jumping on the bathroom scales.

“This sort of dietary restraint and obsessive behaviour can be symptomatic of an eating disorder.”

Ms Heikkonen said participants were assessed on eating-specific and general intolerance of uncertainty, such as not knowing what will happen tomorrow, together with measures of eating disorder symptoms and other related factors like perfectionism.

“While we found that the relationship between general intolerance of uncertainty and eating disorder symptoms was small but significant, we discovered that the link with eating-specific intolerance was particularly strong,” she said.

“These results suggest that individuals with a high intolerance of uncertainty may engage in problematic behaviours in an attempt to reduce any ambiguity, for example, setting strict rules about what to eat.

“It may also prompt over-exercise or frequently seeking reassurance about weight in an attempt to reduce any sense of uncertainty about the impact of food on weight or the possibility of having gained weight,” she said.

“They may even be less motivated to engage in treatment due to the uncertainty involved in doing so. For instance, they may be afraid of regaining weight and the uncertain impact that recovery may have on areas of their life such as their relationships and sense of self.

“An intolerance of could serve as an important consideration in understanding and addressing rigid or restrictive eating behaviors.”

Explore further: Study shows religious beliefs impact levels of worry

Related Stories

Study shows religious beliefs impact levels of worry

August 5, 2011
Researchers at Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital have found that those who believe in a benevolent God tend to worry less and be more tolerant of life's uncertainties than those who believe in an indifferent or punishing ...

Shame on you: tough-love approach to obesity may backfire

May 3, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Tough love may not be the way to motivate overweight and obese people to change their habits for the better, a new study suggests.

Recommended for you

Low-fat or low-carb? It's a draw, study finds

February 20, 2018
New evidence from a study at the Stanford University School of Medicine might dismay those who have chosen sides in the low-fat versus low-carb diet debate.

Tobacco kills, no matter how it's smoked: study

February 20, 2018
(HealthDay)—Smokers who think cigars or pipes are somehow safer than cigarettes may want to think again, new research indicates.

Just a few minutes of light intensity exercise linked to lower death risk in older men

February 19, 2018
Clocking up just a few minutes at a time of any level of physical activity, including of light intensity, is linked to a lower risk of death in older men, suggests research published online in the British Journal of Sports ...

Women who clean at home or work face increased lung function decline

February 16, 2018
Women who work as cleaners or regularly use cleaning sprays or other cleaning products at home appear to experience a greater decline in lung function over time than women who do not clean, according to new research published ...

Calcium and Vitamin D supplements are not associated with risk of heart attacks

February 16, 2018
New research from the University of Southampton has found no association between the use of calcium or vitamin D supplementation and cardiovascular events such as heart attacks.

Study shows options to decrease risk of motor vehicle crashes for adolescent drivers

February 16, 2018
Adolescents who receive comprehensive and challenging on-road driving assessments prior to taking the license test might be protected from future motor vehicle crashes, according to a University of Alabama at Birmingham study ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.