Written by Isabella Pallotto ’19
Though perfectionism is often valued in the workplace or the sports field, perfectionism is associated with high rates of mental disorders. Perfectionists strive to meet impossibly high standards and measure their self-worth based on achieving these standards. Unsurprisingly, these characteristics of perfectionism are associated with high rates of eating disorders and disordered eating (Stice, 2002; Bardone-Cone, 2007).Other studies have shown that perfectionists who are dissatisfied with their appearance or do not feel they can achieve their goals have higher levels of disordered eating than perfectionists alone (Bardone-Cone et al., 2008; Brannan & Petrie, 2008). Researchers at the University of North Carolina wanted to further investigate possible interactions with perfectionism. They wondered if perfectionists who measured their self-worth by how they look or if they were in a romantic relationship would similarly have higher levels of disordered eating (Bardone-Cone, Lin, & Butler, 2017). This type of interaction is important to study because individuals who believe that “if I diet and get thinner, I will look better and be more able to obtain or keep a romantic partner” are likely to develop an eating disorder (Bardone-Cone et al., 2017, p. 386).
Three-hundred and fifty-two undergraduate women participated in the study. Participants completed two surveys; the first when they were recruited for the study (Time 1) and the second a year later (Time 2). Consistent with previous literature, participants who had higher levels of perfectionism at Time 1 had more disordered eating symptoms at Time 2. The participants with high levels of perfectionism and who based their self-worth on their appearance or romantic relationship status had more disordered eating symptoms than just the perfectionists alone.
This study shows that perfectionists are more at risk for disordered eating than non-perfectionists, and that the perfectionists who base their self-worth on their appearance or their romantic relationships have the highest risk of disordered eating. These findings suggest that treatment for eating disorders should target perfectionistic attitudes and help the patient develop self-esteem not based on their appearance or romantic relationship status.
Bardone-Cone, A. M. Joiner, T. J., Crosby, R. D., Crow, S. J., Klein, M. H., le Grange, D., . . . Wonderlich, S. A. (2008). Examining a psychosocial interactive model of binge eating and vomiting in women with bulimia nervosa and subthreshold bulimia nervosa. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 46, 887–894.