Sizing Up Eating Disorders

Author: John Monczunski

People naturally wonder how they stack up against the competition. It’s human nature. We do it to evaluate ourselves, and, if we believe we are “better” than others, to affirm ourselves. But if a young woman’s “sizing up” behavior is extensive and excessive, it may be a sign that she has a problem with anorexia or bulimia.

In a study of 130 female Notre Dame students, Assistant Professor of Psychology Alexandra Corning and her colleagues found that women who exhibited eating disorder symptoms such as over-exercising or purging were more likely to compare themselves to others, not only in body image but in everyday aspects of life as well. The finding is consistent with previous research which revealed that women suffering from eating disorders “exhibit a pervasive sense of uncertainty and high degree of tentativeness about most aspects of their worlds.” This preference for certainty may cause such women to check themselves against others, Corning suggests. In short, they are on a perpetual quest to “protect” their self-esteem.

The Notre Dame study also found that young women with a tendency to eating disorders were more likely to evaluate their bodies negatively, regardless of whether those they compared themselves to were obese, normal or thin. In essence, everyone else was “better.”

Previous studies have found that those suffering from eating disorders have a distorted body image and low self-esteem. They also exhibit greater social anxiety and are more self-conscious. “They could look at others and say, ’I’m hot; I rock.’ But they don’t say that. They make self-defeating comparisons,” says Corning.