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New front on eating disorders

April 26th, 2012
New front on eating disorders
Self-compassion could be the next best weapon in the battle against eating disorders, Flinders University psychologist Tracey Wade says.

Professor Wade, from the School of Psychology, is about to begin a year-long study to determine whether people with anorexia, bulimia or abnormal eating behaviours, known as “disordered eating”, can overcome their problem by learning to silence their inner critic and be more self-accepting.

The study, funded through an $11,000 University research grant, will initially explore how the combined effect of three risk factors – perfectionism, negative moods and weight control, including dieting, – can lead to unhealthy eating habits and eating disorders.

The final part of the project will involve a short online exercise where participants will learn self-compassion and mindfulness techniques, with the overall aim to determine if an increase in self-compassion reduces the three risk factors and, therefore, disordered eating.

Recruiting up to 100 female Flinders students for the study, Professor Wade will examine the impact of self-compassion on body image in the hope that it leads to new treatments.

“Self-compassion is forgiving yourself for things you’ve done wrong but also recognising that it’s only human to make mistakes, and that it’s OK to have frailties and imperfections,” Professor Wade said.

“Although there’s been a lot of research on the relationship between self-esteem and eating disorders, the idea of self-compassion hasn’t been documented in the same, scientifically rigorous way.

“So what we’re trying to do is see if self-compassion can alleviate negative aspects of mood, such as anxiety and depression, and also curb critical thoughts about weight and shape.”

While there have also been various studies on the link between disorder eating and perfectionism, dieting and depression as separate risk factors, Professor Wade said research was yet to expose the combined effect of all three variables.

“We know about the single risk factors involved in disordered eating but we don’t know how they work together,” she said.

“So we’ll be exploring the relationship between those three variables and seeing whether you can help someone overcome disordered eating by eliminating just one of those risk factors.”

Depending on the results of her research, Professor Wade said she hoped to develop a new model of self-intervention based on self-compassion.

To assist in future research, she has just applied for a $347,150 Australian Research Council Discovery Grant.

“At the moment we’re using the self-compassion intervention to help people move away from the risk factors but in the future we would like to try it with people who actually have an eating disorder,” she said.

Provided by Flinders University

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