Beyond Thinness: Men, Muscularity and Eating Disorders

Eating disorder research tends to focus on girls and women. Which makes sense: eating disorders disproportionately affect women. However, it isn’t just the research on eating disorders that focuses on women: it’s the entire history of eating disorders as a diagnosis. The first descriptions of anorexia nervosa by William Gull and bulimia nervosa by Gerald Russell were both based primarily on observations of female patients (although Russell did include two men). Therefore, it’s possible that our basic construction of eating disorders is based on a specifically female experience.

One example of this is the focus on weight loss as a cardinal component of eating disorders (barring binge eating disorder). This is often attributed to the pursuit of a “thin ideal” created by our culture; however, this thin ideal doesn’t necessarily apply to men. Whilst women encounter pressure to be thin, evidence suggests that men encounter pressure to be more muscular—a drive that by its nature would not necessarily be associated with the pursuit of weight loss (Olivardia, 2001).

The point at which this pursuit of muscularity becomes a …

Temperament in Eating Disorders

Much research has been done on personality traits associated with eating disorders, and, as I’ve blogged about here and here, on personality subtypes among patients with EDs. For example, researchers have found that individuals with AN tend to have higher levels of neuroticism and perfectionism than healthy controls (Bulik et al., 2006; Strober, 1981). Moreover, some traits, such as anxiety, have been associated with a lower likelihood of recovery, whereas others, such as impulsivity, with a higher likelihood of recovery from AN (see my post here).

Personality refers to “a set of psychological qualities that contribute to an individual’s enduring and distinctive patterns of feeling, thinking and behaviour” (Pervin & Cervone, 2010, as cited in Atiye et al., 2014). Temperament is considered to be a component of personality and refers to, according to one definition,”the automatic emotional responses to experience and is moderately heritable (i.e. genetic, biological) and stable throughout life.”

One popular model for classifying temperamental traits was developed by Cloninger (1987) and consisted of three dimensions (novelty seeking, harm avoidance, and reward dependence). The model has been updated …

You Sure You Want to Eat That? Perceived Consequences of Eating & Its Relation to Recovery

I recently had a total Aha! moment (or a why-didn’t-I-ever-think-of-it moment) when I had chanced upon a recently published article titled “Eating Expectancies in Relation to Eating Disorder Recovery” by Fitzsimmons-Craft and colleagues. The title caught my attention because I had never come across any research tying eating expectancies to eating disorders, though I was familiar with the concept from the health psychology and obesity literature. Eating, as a behaviour and as a mechanism, is incredibly complex, with many factors contributing to why and how we eat; eating expectancies are one such factor.

Expectancy theory, first proposed by Tolman (1932), suggests that expectancies, or assumptions about the consequences of various behaviours, develop as a result of one’s learning history (Smith et al., 2007). Such expectancies are thought to influence subsequent behavioural choices, with one acting to either increase the likelihood of reward or decrease the likelihood of punishment. Essentially, expectancies are cognitive mechanisms that drive future behaviours.

With respect to eating, expectancies represent the culmination of one’s learning history as related to

Complex Motherhood: The Perspectives of Mothers with Eating Disorders

Studying, as I do, in a department of family relations, I have become interested in family relationships and parenting. Accordingly, I have begun to take note of interesting studies that link family dynamics and parenting with eating disorders, including studies that look at the sibling relationship (as I wrote about here), family-based treatment, and motherhood/fatherhood in the context of eating disorders.

The literature appears to have shifted, lately, from a focus on “eating-disorder generating” families toward an acknowledgement of the complex family dynamics that can play into the development and treatment of eating disorders. A move away from mother- or family-blaming discourses is essential, I would argue, to gaining a better understanding of the lived experience of eating disorders for individuals and families alike.

Accordingly, I was pleased to stumble across an article by Tuval-Mashiach et al. (2013) that used a qualitative approach to explore the experiences of mothers with eating disorders. The authors suggest that their study helps to fill a gap in the literature surrounding how mothers experience the intersections between their motherhood roles, their …

How you doin’? Differences in Psychological Well-being Between Anorexia, Bulimia, and Binge Eating Disorder Patients

Good health is more than just the absence of illness; it is more than just the absence of dysfunction. Good health — that is, mental, social, and physical health — requires the presence of wellness, or the ability to function well.

In this respect, with regard to eating disorders, most research has focused on assessing (health-related) quality of life and subjective well-being of eating disorder patients, often focusing on things like body satisfaction, self-esteem, and positive and negative emotions. There is, however, another way to think about well-being. A model (and assessment scale) developed by Carolyn Ruff, called psychological well-being (also here), aims to assess specific dimensions of functioning that contribute to or make-up well-being. There are six such dimensions.

Ryff Scales of Psychological Well-being:

  1. self-acceptance (positive self-evaluation)
  2. a sense of continued growth and development
  3. a sense of purpose and meaning in life
  4. a sense of self-determination and autonomy
  5. possession of quality relationships with others
  6. ability to manage life effectively (‘environmental mastery’)

I found this succinct description of the differences helpful:

Subjective well-being (SWB) is evaluation of life in

Clinical Utility of Weight Suppression in Bulimia Nervosa Treatment – Part II

In this post I will continue my discussion on weight suppression in bulimia nervosa (click here to read Part I). Just in case you happen to be reading the posts out of sequence, I will summarize the main points of that entry:

  1. Weight suppression is the difference between one’s current body weight and highest adult body weight.
  2. It has been found that individuals with BN are on average well below their highest historical weights (i.e. they are weight suppressed).
  3. Many studies have consistently found positive associations between WS and the onset and maintenance of BN symptoms.


Because most individuals with BN have undergone significant weight loss, this makes them susceptible to weight regain — much like obese individuals usually regain the weight they have lost. Indeed, evidence suggests that weight suppression predicts weight gain in individuals with BN during inpatient (Lowe et al., 2006) and outpatient treatment (Carter et al., 2008).

In contrast, other measures of weight history, such as highest or lowest body mass index (BMI)

HW vs. CW: Weight Suppression in Bulimia Nervosa – Part I

HW. CW. LW. GW1. GW2. GW3. UGW.

If you have (or have had) an eating disorder (or dieted and used online forums), chances are you know what those acronyms mean. And if you have browsed blogs written by eating disorder sufferers, chances are you have come across these acronyms too. After all, they are a prominent feature of many such blogs.

If you are lost, I’ll fill you in: the acronyms stand for Highest Weight, Current Weight, Lowest Weight, Goal Weight 1/2/3, and Ultimate Goal Weight (UGW). Unsurprisingly, most individuals with eating disorders, much like dieters, like to keep track of their weight loss — that is, the difference between the highest weight, HW, and the current weight, CW.

Researchers call this difference weight suppression (WSmore specifically, the highest adult body weight) and one’s current weight). It can be thought of as the extent to which an individual has reduced their weight through dieting. It is usually calculated based on self-reported highest adult body weights. (So those …

Bingeing Because Food is Yummy: A Stepping Stone Toward Recovery from Anorexia and Bulimia?

This may sound counterintuitive at first, but I’m thankful for two aspects of my eating disorder, which I believe helped me make the choice to aim towards recovery: the development of binge eating after chronic food restriction and the physical inability to purge through self-induced vomiting. Like many individuals diagnosed with anorexia nervosa that go on to develop binge eating, I tended to choose high-fat foods and sweets as my “go-to” food items. I had always enjoyed such foods and was a notorious junk food aficionado as a young girl (way before any eating disorder symptoms developed). Once the bingeing behavior started, I couldn’t stop.

Sitting with the discomfort after a binge made me seriously consider whether this was something I could maintain for any lengthy period of time, and that’s when I started getting help. In a sense, I believe my affection for sweet foods, and propensity to binge on them, was a “life saver” of sorts. I also think these behaviors got me used to eating foods that I had deemed “forbidden” while I was restricting. With this …

Emotion Fluctuations in Anorexia and Bulimia Nervosa: A Rollercoaster or Not So Much?

Restricting, bingeing, and purging are powerful ways to regulate emotional states. However, these behaviours probably play different roles in emotional regulation. Whereas restriction is hypothesized to pre-empt the onset of highly emotional states, bingeing and purging is thought to act as a coping mechanism to deal with overwhelming emotional states once they’ve already been activated. 

In BN there is abundant evidence that the binge–purge cycle functions as a means of emotion regulation. Binging [and I would arguing purging too! ] facilitates a temporary suppression of painful self-awareness and helps the self to dissociate from painful emotions or to block negative affect as demonstrated in both laboratory studies and diary studies in daily life.

In AN, restrictive eating patterns have been linked with a narrowing of emotional functioning, flattening of affect and lack of outward display of emotion. As such, Waller, Kennerley, and Ohanian (2007) argue that both binge– vomit-cycle and restriction are emotion suppression strategies which are just utilized at different times.

If this is true, we would expect to see more variability (or fluctuation) in the intensity and types

Body Image: Is It a Useful Concept? (Maybe Not So Much)

I recently attended the International Society of Critical Health Psychology’s 8th Biennial Conference in Bradford, England. At the conference, I had the pleasure of attending many talks that challenged the way we approach health psychology. Luckily for me, there were several sessions that touched on issues of disordered eating and body image.

One such talk, a panel presentation with Hannah Frith, Sarah Riley, Martine Robson and Peter Branney, challenged attendees to re-think the way we approach body image. When I returned home, I immediately downloaded an article by Kate Gleeson and Hannah Frith (2006) that discusses this same idea and essentially begs the question: Is the concept of “body image,” as it is currently articulated, actually useful?

This might come off as a controversial question; after all, body image is central to many studies (and treatment programs) related to eating disorders. We’re told repeatedly that by improving our body image, we can achieve peace with food, with ourselves, with exercise, and with others. Good body image is upheld as the panacea of …