According to a new study published in Clinical Psychological Science, women who are anorexic feel proud about their weight loss and this positive emotion further drives the disorder. For the study, 118 women's emotional states were observed. They belonged to the age groups ranging from 18 to 58 and were being treated for anorexia nervosa. Edward Selby, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology, School of Arts and Sciences at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., said that the women who were analysed felt emotionally positive and were proud of being able to maintain and exceed their weight-loss goals.
Selby said, "What we think happens is that positive emotions become exaggerated and are rewarding these maladaptive behaviors. 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."
Previously research concentrated on the effects negative emotions had on the patients; they believed that it contributed to their obsession over weight loss. Selby said that this was the first study of its kind as little analysis of empirical data has been done in the past. "That could help gain insight into how positive emotions are distorted by those suffering with the illness."
The study found that those women who were unaware of their distorted positive emotions over their weight loss, had a tendency to engage in self induced vomiting, laxative use, restricting calories, excessive exercise, checking body fat and constant weight checks.
Selby stated that a deeper understanding into their positive and negative emotions and its connection with the disease would help in the treatment of the disease. In "Pro-Anorexic" Web sites, these women are appreciated for their control and courage, this further motivates them and makes them feel good about themselves. Selby states that the weight loss results in positive emotions that further drives anorexia, women try to lose weight even after their goals are met. He calls this a "vicious cycle."
The study states that more research is needed to direct these positive emotions felt over weight loss among anorexics to other healthy physical activities.
"Being in control is important for many of these women," Selby said. "What we need to do is find a way to reconnect the positive emotions they feel in losing weight to other aspects of their lives that will lead to a more balanced sense of happiness."