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Anorexia may be Encouraged by Pride

First Posted: Aug 04, 2014 01:18 PM EDT

Statistics show that close to 20 million women and 10 million men in the United States suffer from an eating disorder, according to the National Eating Disorders Association. For many, the disorder will be anorexia nervosa--a health issue characterized by the need to become extremely thin.

A new study conducted by researchers at Rutgers University examines the complications related to the health issue. Study results showed that individuals dealing with this complicated obsession often pride themselves on how much weight they can lose, according to findings published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science.

"Women with anorexia are often in complex emotional places, that is why it is important to understand all we can about what they are getting out of this experience," said Edward Selby, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology, School of Arts and Sciences at Rutgers University, in a news release. "The more we know not only about the negative emotions, but also the positive emotions connected to this disease, the more likely we will be to treat this devastating illness."

For the study, researchers recruited 118 women from the ages of 18 to 58. All participants were treated for this eating disorder. Researchers assessed the women's emotional states over the time span of two weeks and found an unhealthy dose of positive emotions associated with accomplishment of weight loss goals.

Furthermore, researchers concluded that positive reinforcement of "thinness" negatively encouraged anorexic individuals to continue their weight-loss trends.

Researchers noted that much of the positive reinforcement was not only found among peers, but also from "Pro-Anorexic" websites that applauded extreme weight loss.

"What we think happens is that positive emotions become exaggerated and are rewarding these maladaptive behaviors," added Selby, via Medical Xpress. "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."

More information regarding the findings can be seen via the study article, "Nothing tastes as good as thin feels: Low positive emotion differentiation and weight-loss activities in anorexia nervosa."

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