Study Sheds Light on the Role of Emotional Stress in Disordered Eating

The findings of a recent undergraduate experiment at Bucknell University suggest that eating disorders serve as a way for individuals to focus their emotional stress into concrete, food-suppressing behavior. An enterprising undergrad and assistant linguistics professor recently conducted an experiment to figure out what's going on in the minds of people suffering with eating disorders. According to co-experimenter Lauren Feldman, "Much of the research on eating disorders looks at weight, food and body shape as motivators. But there's also a theory that eating disorders serve emotional functions rather than physical ones." So Feldman and fellow researcher Heidi Lorimor employed some good old-fashioned word association, hypothesizing that, burdened with a certain amount of stress, people suffering from eating disorders would react differently than non-stressed subjects to any mention of food or food-related words such as "starve" or "restaurant," which would lay bare the emotional component of eating disorder thoughts.

Since we're all sitting here, waiting on tenterhooks for the dramatic denouement of this latest scientific escapade, we can go ahead and assure ourselves that subjects with eating disorders did, in fact, respond to food-related imagery differently when they were under duress. Feldman found that subjects with eating disorders recognized words like "pizza" and "restaurant" more slowly when they were stressed, which suggested to her that "it's as if, when stressed, eating-disordered individuals suppressed thoughts of food." Feldman added, "This makes sense, because blocking out such thoughts would facilitate eating-disordered behaviors like dieting and restricting." The findings, which will be presented in March at Bucknell's Kalman Undergraduate Research Symposium in March, may eventually help people treating eating disorders build a patient's recovery process emotion and coping skills.

Stress affects those with eating disorders [UPI]

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