As more and more American women end up on either side of the unhealthy eating attitudes scale, engaging in compulsiveovereating or compulsive under eating, the need to investigate the links between eating attitudes and the modern lifestyle have become more important than ever before.
Much has been said about eating disorders, but what few fail to realize is that there are a range of unhealthy eating attitudes that can cause emotional distress and impair normal functioning. While someone may not have a full-blown eating disorder such as anorexia or compulsive overeating, unhealthy feelings about food and their body can still create problems.
New research to show the link between stress, perfectionism, and generally unhealthy eating attitudes shows that our fast-paced, achievement-oriented lifestyles may be taking a toll.
One recent study performed at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom has shown a strong link between perfectionism, stress and unhealthy eating attitudes. Researchers wanted to see if a stressful situation could cause unhealthy eating attitudes and body dissatisfaction to flair up in women who were not necessarily diagnosed with an eating disorder. Forty-two nonclinical college students were assessed for anxiety, perfectionism and unhealthy eating attitudes on both a normal day and after being put through a task designed to induce stress.
Body dissatisfaction was associated with perfectionism both before and after the stress task, showing a general link between perfectionism and body image whether or not stress was present. Interestingly, the drive for thinness was shown to markedly increase after the task amongst the young women who were experiencing notable concern over making mistakes and meeting personal standards.
The researchers concluded that stress exacerbates the relationship between perfectionism and unhealthy eating behaviors. It is possible that, while perfectionism causes the body image dissatisfaction that creates the foundation for disordered eating, it’s stress that sparks the need to engage in actual disordered eating behavior.
Courtney E. Martin, author of Starving Daughters: The Frightening New Normalcy of Hating Your Body, talks about the drive for perfection and the pressure to be thin. “There’s this hungry need for perfectionism in all facets of our lives. The upside to that is that we’re very achievement oriented,” Martin says. But, she says, there is a downside. “We become these robotic, high-achieving perfect girls.”
Her book discusses how it has become normal for women to constantly diet, workout, and obsess about food in an effort to achieve a perfect ideal. She also talks about how women experience an unhealthy relationship with food and their bodies in response to anxiety.
“I think women need to be really honest with themselves. If you’re not happy with your relationship with food or fitness, then that is a problem. You don’t have to be hospitalized or have some severe eating disorder. If you don’t feel like you can make choices and feel happy about them, that’s a real problem. Even just coming to terms with your own body image could change the whole world if enough women did this.”