The factors that put someone at risk for eating problems or alcohol problems are many. For young adult women, unique conditions work together to increase those risks. Problem drinking and binge eating are significant concerns for this age group. Women who develop these problems at a young age may do so as a coping mechanism. And although the consequences may be few at first, the pattern of using food or alcohol as a strategy to escape from negative feelings can set the stage for more severe addictions, compulsions, and negative relationships with food, alcohol, or other substances. Therefore, Anna M. Bardone-Cone of the Department of Psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill led a recent study examining what factors put college-aged women most at risk for negative eating and alcohol use.
For her study, Bardone-Cone evaluated 406 college women for levels of self-directed perfectionism and social perfectionism. She also looked at stress as a predictor of binging. She examined interpersonal, body image, and academic stress, and assessed how these interacted with perfectionism to increase binging when the women felt negative. She found that women with high levels of academic stress and social perfectionism were most likely to be emotional eaters, using food as a method of escaping negative feelings. Social perfectionism was also linked to all three types of stress in women who used alcohol as way of coping with negative affect.
Bardone-Cone believes that young college women are under an inordinate amount of stress. When they feel they have to be at their optimal best academically, personally, physically, and relationally, the additional pressure of thinking they have to be socially perfect may just be too much, causing them to resort to alcohol as a means of coping. For instance, if a woman does not feel great about herself, even though body image was not directly related to alcohol or food binging, she may still turn to alcohol or food in order to decrease her negative feelings about not being perfect in society’s eyes. When other stressors are added to the mix, such as relational and body image stress, alcohol appeared to be the method of choice for numbing negative feelings. Bardone-Cone hopes that her findings will motivate clinicians to address social perfectionism and academic goals as triggers for maladaptive eating and alcohol patterns. “This approach could potentially aid in preventing the development of the more serious problems of binge eating, bulimia nervosa, and problem drinking,” said Bardone-Cone.
Bardone-Cone, Anna M., Lisa M. Brownstone, M.K. Higgins, Megan B. Harney, and Ellen E. Fitzsimmons-Craft. Predicting difficulties controlling overeating and drinking when experiencing negative affect in undergraduate women. Journal of Social & Clinical Psychology 31.10 (2012): 1051-073. Print.
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