Does Anger Predict Eating Problems in College-Age Women?

Food and eating problems are a serious concern among young women. Existing research has shown a link between eating problems and perfectionism. Evidence has also demonstrated a direct relationship between perfectionism and exercise. It has also been suggested that anger is related to perfectionism. Suppressed anger and trait anger may somehow increase the vulnerability for eating problems. But until recently, this relationship between anger and eating problems has not been thoroughly explored. College-age women, who are under academic, social, and peer pressures, experience heightened amounts of stress and are at increased risk for eating problems. For this reason, Dr. Mara Aruguete of the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Lincoln University in Missouri conducted a study examining how trait and suppressed anger affect the perfectionism and exercise habits of women who are likely to struggle with eating and food issues.

For her study, Aruguete looked at 258 college students and assessed their levels of anger, both suppressed and trait. She found that while anger did indeed increase the risk of perfectionism in the participants, it did not directly increase the likelihood of eating problems. She also noticed that anger was an indicator of exercise adherence, but not in a way that created eating and food issues. These results suggest that although anger is a factor for increased exercise adherence and perfectionism, two interrelated behaviors, it does not independently increase the likelihood of developing an eating problem. But regardless of the origin of perfectionism or exercise adherence, these behaviors clearly predict a person’s chances of developing eating and food issues.

Aruguete also discovered that the participants who were committed to regular exercise exhibited decreased levels of trait anger. This has been shown in other studies, but Aruguete believes that these new findings warrant further research into the benefits of exercise on anger. She also found that although anger is related to perfectionism, only those participants with suppressed anger expressed high levels of perfectionism in her study. In conclusion, Aruguete noted that the participants, who were college-age women of diverse ethnicity, might be broadened in future research to better understand how all of these factors affect eating pathology in various cultures. She said, “Further research is needed to examine the complexity of the relationships between anger, perfectionism, and gender.”

Aruguete, M. S., Edman, J. L., Yates, A. (2012). The relationship between anger and other correlates of eating disorders in women. North American Journal of Psychology 14.1, 139-148.

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  • Kimberley


    April 6th, 2012 at 11:36 AM

    I would be further willing to suggest that a lot of this anger that then manifests itself into exercise addiction and eating disorders again all boils down to trying to control oneself in a way that they may not have been successful with in other ways. Perhaps it is anger at their size, or grades, or parents or whatever really. It is all about finding an outlet for those emotions and in this case it just happens to be through exercise and controlling and limiting food intake. Seriously not a healthy habit any way you look at it.

  • ellie


    April 6th, 2012 at 1:39 PM

    There are so many reasons why a young girl could develop eating disorders, it has to be hard to pinpoint just one.
    For most of them there are probably various issues at different points in their lives that have compelled them to practice this kind of destructive behavior.
    But the one thing that I will never understand is that if these girls are such perfectionists how can they not see the ruin of their bodies and their minds in this way as something very counterproductive to what they seemingly strive to be?
    Maybe this is not a journey to perfection, but rather a walk toward self destruction.

  • Willow


    April 7th, 2012 at 2:20 AM

    Exercising certainly helps me control my anger. Ever since I started hitting the gym on a regular basis I have observed that I am better able to control my flare ups that I was quite famous for not too long ago ;)

  • HeathFarrow


    April 7th, 2012 at 4:53 AM

    We always talk about women and eating disorders, but no real attention is paid to the fact that there are a lot of men who suffer from disordered eating patterns too. And after reading this it would kind of seem like the causes would be similar, but not quite. I am not sure that men strive for that bodily perfection that women do, and I am not even sure it is all about the control thing either. I think that for men maybe it is more about trying to live up to society’s ideals of the perfect man, and they find this more manageable when they micromanage their eating and exercise regimens.

  • Jocelyn


    April 9th, 2012 at 4:26 AM

    I had a horrible time growing up with a stepfather that I hated. I felt like he did not love me, that he and my mom were always pushing me away so that they could have time only for each other. As I got older that anger inside grew, and I think that this is where a lot of my problems with eating began. I turned off my feelings, retreated within, and decided to take control of something that I know I could control, and I guess that showed up in my eating. I did not eat, working toward “bettering” myself through denial and exercise. But all I really did was make myself very, very sick and while my parents took care of me, it did nothing but make our relationship even more strained, never improving it because they did not wat to acknowledge that they could have played a role in the development of the disorder in me. I am not placing all of the blame on them, but it would have been nice if they could have seen earlier that there was something going on and could have guided me to get help sooner.

  • Edward.K


    April 9th, 2012 at 3:15 PM

    Angry people generally have trouble in other areas as well.Its the temperament to blame,isnt it!

    The same anger can get them into trouble not only with regard to their habits(like eating) but also with those around them,including the workplace.

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