Personality Traits after Recovery from Eating Disorders: Do Anorexia and Bulimia Patients Differ?

When we think about eating disorders, we tend to think about eating disorder subtypes: anorexia nervosa (AN), bulimia nervosa (BN), and binge eating disorder. A lot of previous work has shown that individuals with AN and BN tend to be anxious, depressed, perfectionistic, and harm-avoidant. Patients with AN also tend to score low on novelty-seeking, impulsivity, and self-directedness, whereas patients with BN score high on novelty-seeking and impulsivity. More recently, however, some researchers began to wonder if there was another way to categorize patients–not according to symptoms, but according to personality traits?

They identified three clusters of personality subtypes that seemed to “cut across” eating disorder diagnoses, outlined below (taken from a previous post):

Three Personality Subtypes in Eating Disorder Patients:

  1. “dysregulated/undercontrolled pattern: characterized by emotional dysregulation and impulsivity”
  2. “constricted/overcontrolled pattern: characterized by emotional inhibition, cognitively sparse representations of self and others, and interpersonal avoidance”
  3. “high-functioning/perfectionist pattern: 
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Predictors of Diagnostic Crossover and Symptom Fluctuation in Eating Disorders

Symptom fluctuation and diagnostic crossover are common in eating disorder patients. A study by Eddy et al. (2008) – who followed patients over an average of 7 years – showed that crossover between subtypes and full-syndrome diagnoses is very common : of those initially diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, almost 73% crossed over to another diagnosis (between symptoms and to bulimia nervosa). More specifically, roughly 50% experienced fluctuation between subtypes (restricting, AN-R, and binge/purge type, AN-BP) and roughly 35% crossed over to bulimia nervosa (a subset experienced both). Of those initially diagnosed with bulimia, roughly 14% crossed over to AN-BP and of those, 3.91% crossed over to AN-R.

This finding (though, well-known to ED specialists and even more well-known to patients) has important implications for treatment. For example, CBT and anti-depressants seem to have positive results in bulimic patients, but not so much in anorexics. What then, about those that crossover … Continue reading →