Study Suggests People with Eating Issues Respond Based on Personality Type

Anorexia Nervosa (AN) is a psychological issue that causes people to fear gaining weight. People with AN have extremely low body weights and presents a significant health risk for the 1 percent of the female population who struggles with this problem. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, University of Pittsburg Medical Center, outlined why AN is so dangerous. They said, “AN is a critical public health concern for several reasons.” Aside from the physical damage AN causes to a person, “AN often co-occurs with other psychiatric conditions, particularly mood disorders, anxiety disorders, substance misuse and personality psychopathology.” The researchers noted that AN is very expensive to treat and nearly five percent of the people who suffer with AN die as a result of it every ten years. “Despite the morbidity and mortality associated with AN, the development of effective treatments for this illness has been a challenge,” said the researchers. Because previous studies have shown that nearly half of the people who receive inpatient treatment for AN need additional treatment within the first twelve months after discharge, the researchers wanted to determine if the personality subtypes of the women with AN affected their response to treatment.

They said that personality types play an important role in treating any psychological problem. “There is growing evidence that maladaptive personality traits are treatable and, in fact, may moderate the effects of psychotherapeutic and pharmacological interventions.” In order to determine if the personality traits affected treatment, the researchers examined data collected from 154 women with anorexia nervosa at admittance, discharge and three months after discharge using several assessment tools, including the McKnight Follow-up of Eating Disorders measure. The women were categorized into three personality subtypes, including undercontrolled, overcontrolled and low-psychopathology. The findings revealed that those with an undercontrolled personality subtype were significantly more likely to leave treatment against medical advice and also more likely to be readmitted than the overcontrolled and low-psychopathoology classes. The women with undercontrolled personalities were defined as being more impulsive, having lower self-esteem, more likely to self-harm and demonstrate reckless and aggressive behaviors. The researchers believe it is important to identify personality subtypes in order to provide effective treatment to women with AN. They said, “This study provides the first evidence, to our knowledge, that an alternative approach to subtyping individuals with eating disorders based on comorbid personality psychopathology has utility in predicting clinical outcomes at discharge from intensive treatment for AN and patterns of treatment-seeking during short-term follow-up.”

Wildes, Jennifer E., Marsha D. Marcus, Ross D. Crosby, Rebecca M. Ringham, Marcela M. Dapelo, Jill A. Gaskill, and Kelsie T. Forbush. “The Clinical Utility of Personality Subtypes in Patients with Anorexia Nervosa.” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology (July 18, 2011). Advance online publication. Doi: 10.1037/a0024597

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

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  • Beth


    August 1st, 2011 at 7:54 PM

    My sister has been diagnosed with AN. I am glad that I stumbled across this article as hopefully she will show it to her therapist now that she is out of in patient treatment. Prior to admission she also seemed to suffer from low self-esteem and certainly substance misuse.
    This is our second round of treatments and we are praying everyday that this time we are successful and she is on the path to permanent recovery. Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers as this has been a very long journey.

  • Sallie


    August 2nd, 2011 at 4:27 AM

    Oh yes I would honestly think that those control freak kind of women, those type a personalities would have a much higher incidence of anorexia than others. It is all about that feeling of being in control and this is something that they can definitely feel that over.

  • YH


    August 2nd, 2011 at 11:59 AM

    Ive heard this one before but just need some views from the experts:
    Having little foods is not going to help you in any way.In fact,you are causing harm to yourself.

  • Sadie


    August 2nd, 2011 at 3:42 PM

    have this little fear in the back of my head that if they are predicting one’s outcomes later in life right when the patient is leaving treatment and the atient knows about this type of profiling, that this could lead to a relapse that may not have necessarily been their future. but they start to think that this is what other people are thinking about them, that they are destined to fail so this is what they are going to live up to. you just have to be careful with these kinds of things so that you are not automatically setting them up for failure before even giving them a chance for success.

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