A new study shows that insecure attachment plays a big role in developing a negative body image in women who have eating disorders. The findings of the study suggest that preventing and treating eating disorders could be more effective by concentrating more on early separation anxiety and insecure attachment to caregivers.

Dr. Alfonso Troisi and his colleagues explain in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine that the theory of attachment holds that early experiences in life shape adult personality traits. Infants who are emotionally cared for “develop a model of the self as loved and valued and a model of the other as loving.”

On the other hand, infants who experience neglect and/or rejection at the hands of a caregiver, and begin to see their caregiver as undependable, may start to feel they are not worthy of love.

The fact that these “insecurely attached” individuals develop body dissatisfaction may be related to their decreased sense of self-worth and a heightened need to be accepted by others, suggest the researchers.

Troisi and colleagues at the University of Rome utilized validated questionnaires and looked for associations between early insecure attachment and separation anxiety, and body dissatisfaction in 96 women with anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa who were in their 20s and 30s.

The team found that both early separation anxiety and insecure attachment were strongly lined to the development of a negative body image, even after controlling for the effects of body weight and depression, and said these findings support their hypothesis.

Recently, a sample of pre-adolescent and adolescent girls found that the insecurely attached girls were far more concerned with their weight and had lower self-esteem than securely attached girls did.

Troisi and colleagues wrote, “Our findings confirm that insecure attachment is a consistent correlate of negative body image” in not only young girls, but also in women with eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia.

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