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Pride tied to Weight Loss Increases Risk of Anorexia

Update Date: Aug 04, 2014 10:13 AM EDT

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that is characterized by the need to lose weight even though the patient's current weight is considered healthy for his or her height and age. This body image disorder can lead to extremely fatal consequences, such as malnutrition and death when left untreated. In a new study, researchers set out to examine what drives anorexia. They found that people who take a lot pride in regards to their weight loss are more likely to suffer from anorexia.

"Women with anorexia are often in complex emotional places, that is why it is important to understand all we can about what they are getting out of this experience," said Edward Selby, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology, School of Arts and Sciences. "The more we know not only about the negative emotions, but also the positive emotions connected to this disease, the more likely we will be to treat this devastating illness."

For this study, the researchers from Rutgers University recruited 118 women from the ages of 18 to 58. All of the participants were being treated for anorexia. The researchers assessed the women's emotional states over the time span of two weeks. The team found that these women not only felt negative emotions, they also experienced positive ones when they accomplished their weight loss goals. The researchers concluded that the positive reinforcement encourages anorexic people to continue losing weight even thought it might no longer be healthy to do so.

"What we think happens is that positive emotions become exaggerated and are rewarding these maladaptive behaviors," said Selby according to Medical Xpress. "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."

The study, "Nothing tastes as good as thin feels: Low positive emotion differentiation and weight-loss activities in anorexia nervosa," was published in the journal, Clinical Psychological Science.

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