DIETING AND EATING DISORDERS
Dieting techniques and eating disorders. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, eating disorders are characterized by severe disturbances in both eating behaviour and the perception of body shape and weight. Eating Disturbances may include restriction of food intake, binge eating, and compensatory mechanisms such as self-induced vomiting, laxative misuse, and excessive exercise. Dieting and eating disorders are inextricably linked, with prospective studies indicating that dieting is a precursor to the development of eating disorders. The continuity model of eating disorders suggests that there are only quantitative differences between dieters and eating-disordered women, and that development of an eating disorder occurs when extreme manifestations of common dieting behaviours occur. In accordance with this notion, a number of similarities exist between eating disorders and common dieting. On an eating pathology continuum, unhealthy dieting brings women closer to an eating disorder than healthy dieting. By definition, unhealthy dieting includes some of the same behaviours outlined in the DSM-IV-TR as being compensatory behaviours in eating disorders (e.g. self-induced vomiting, laxative misuse). Further, the eating disordered nature of unhealthy dieting was demonstrated by Markey and Markey, who showed that unhealthy dieting is more likely than healthy dieting to be a result of an increased drive to be thin despite not being overweight. This drive for thinness is an established feature of eating disorders. It appears then that more dysfunctional attitudes towards eating are related to the use of extreme and unhealthy dieting behaviours in women’s weight loss attempts. The causal relationship between eating disordered attitudes and unhealthy dieting techniques could run both ways. Women who have dysfunctional attitudes towards eating, weight, and their body may resort to unhealthy dieting techniques in an attempt to attain their thin ideal and ease concerns about their body. For the current research it was predicted that women who reported more eating disordered attitudes and beliefs would engage in higher levels of unhealthy dieting.
Self-esteem and eating disorders. Low self-esteem has repeatedly been found in individuals who display eating disordered behaviours. Self-esteem also frequently appears in theories of the etiology of eating disorders. For example, the recent research-based “transdiagnostic” approach to eating disorders proposed by Fairburn, Cooper, and Shafran posits first that most eating disorder patients have low self-esteem due to failure to control their eating, and second that the more severe eating disorder patients suffer from a “core low self-esteem” which is a pervasive negative view of themselves. This indicates that general low self-esteem may exacerbate tendencies towards eating disordered attitudes and beliefs. Further, levels of self-esteem have been found to moderate the impact of risk factors for eating disorders on eating pathology.