Recurrent negative thinking associated with specific eating disorders in adolescent girls

Adolescent girls who show increased levels of repetitive negative thinking are more likely to engage in disordered eating habits, according to a new study published in the journal eating habits. The results provide preliminary evidence that targeting repeated negative thinking in adolescence can reduce binge eating behaviors.

“Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses that often begin in adolescence, and I wanted to investigate risk factors for eating disorders at this critical time. Repetitive negative thinking, the uncontrollable and repetitive processing of thoughts, has been shown to increase the psychopathology of eating disorders across the board,” said Drexel University’s Valerie Wong, corresponding author of the new study.

“However, the behavior of an eating disorder can present itself in very different ways (e.g. eating too little or too much). I was interested in how repetitive negative thinking in different contexts might interact with these different eating behaviors (eg, restrictive vs. binge eating) and with other risk factors for eating disorders such as perfectionism and fear of socializing. Understanding how repetitive negative thinking and other risk factors are related to the development of eating disorder behaviors in adolescent girls is essential for early detection and prevention of eating disorders.”

In the study, 332 high school students completed assessments of eating disorder symptoms, repetitive thinking, fear of socializing, and perfectionism.

Consistent with previous research, Wong and her colleagues found that social appearance anxiety and perfectionism were associated with both fasting and binge eating. After accounting for the effects of these two variables, the researchers also found that repetitive thinking was independently associated with binge eating but not with fasting.

In other words, students who make statements like “As soon as I start thinking about it [distressing situations]I can’t stop” and “I have thoughts or images that are hard to forget” were more likely to indicate that they had eaten what other people would consider unusually high amounts of food and made themselves vomit or used a laxative means of controlling their shape or weight.

“Our results suggest that repetitive negative thinking is more related to binge eating than restrictive eating,” Wong told PsyPost. “In addition, individuals with high levels of perfectionism, fear of social appearances, and repetitive negative thinking may be at higher risk of engaging in a variety of eating disorder behaviors. Identifying and addressing these risk factors can better prevent eating disorders from occurring.”

But future research is needed to understand the causal links between repetitive thinking, fear of socializing, perfectionism, and eating disorders.

“Because our analyzes were cross-sectional and observational, we could not draw causal conclusions,” Wong explained. “Future studies should test these relationships with prospective data to further determine whether repeated negative thinking leads to the development of eating disorders.”

The study, “The Unique and Moderated Relationships Between Repeated Negative Thinking and Disordered Eating Behavior in Adolescent Girls” was authored by Valerie Z. Wong, Caroline Christian, and Cheri A. Levinson.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.