At the end of the day, the food you eat will decide whether your weight will be in a healthy range or not. However, talking about this issue in such a simple way is absolutely disrespectful to a certain percentage of people. These are the people who are more prone to eating disorders because of their personality traits.
Our personality is an important aspect of our life. When it becomes coupled with eating disorders, it becomes crucial to know whether there are certain personality traits which might need a different approach as far as their treatment goes. In general, your personality traits are a consequence of your genetic make-up and your social environment. Both of these can sometimes be out of your hands whether you like it or not.
But, by being aware which personality traits are already present in someone who has anorexia or bulimia, we can be more sensitive to the individualized needs which are a consequence of the aforementioned traits.
Anorexia and bulimia are two eating disorders, often stigmatized in society. It’s hard for the public to understand that, just like any other disorder, both show genetic, (neuro)biological, and social causes.
With that said, you have to understand people with anorexia and bulimia don’t refuse eating due to vanity or something similar. While mainstream media can be a very powerful trigger for the onset of any of these disorders, there is still a genetic component which affects certain people more than others.
Their actions are a consequence of different partially predetermined factors. And they have no real power over them in the long run, without serious professional help at least.
One of these factors is their personality. Studies in the past have observed the common characteristics of people with either bulimia or anorexia. The most prevalent characteristics which these studies have observed have been:
Rigidity – people with anorexia are inflexible when it comes to their thoughts about food, they are also inflexible when it comes to certain actions about their food.
Need for control – they have a characteristic need for control and can obsess, be pessimistic, they are reluctant to change, avoid new situations, and are afraid of the uncertain. All of these go hand in hand with the before mentioned rigidity. I’ll explain it shortly.
Low impulsivity – they have a tendency do things after careful consideration and do not act suddenly. All of these anorexia personality traits give us a person who likes to obsess over things, likes to have control of his life, certain aspects at least, mostly being food. At the same time they are not so eager to change their current ways, they don’t act on impulse, and don’t want to add something new into their lives that fast.
Perfectionism – They have a need to avoid appearing imperfect. Similarly as in people with anorexia who like to avoid harm. In some sense, this also implies they try to avoid criticism, a thing that would be harmful to their weak self-image. Moreover, perfectionists try to avoid harm and rely on the approval of other people. They also share the lower desire for new things. They dislike engaging in activities where their success is not guaranteed and their perfect image could be compromised.
But all the mentioned personality traits can be understood as part of one bigger underlying personality construct that is shared among people with different eating disorders. However, this construct can be manifested in different ways, which is a reason why it seems differently in different people.
This is important because these personality traits can be found in bulimia often as well. Perfectionism, obsessive compulsive behavior, neuroticism, negative emotions, the tendency to avoid harm, and some other traits that are associated with avoidant personality disorder. But that’s not the end of it.
People with bulimia also tend to be more impulsive and seek more stimuli from their environment as opposed to people with anorexia. They are so-called “sensation seekers” – they need/crave different stimuli from their environment to be optimally aroused to correctly function in their everyday life. As I’ve said, this personality construct can be manifested differently in different people, and as we can see, people with bulimia are more prone to being sensation seekers than are people with anorexia.
Scientists have identified two main clusters of people with eating disorders when it comes to their personality traits.
The first is a cluster of people that conform and have control over what they eat, they do, however, keep up a certain sense of well-being and self-acceptance. Compared to the group, their symptoms are not as severe.
The second cluster are a group of people that have high levels of anxiety, they constantly second guess themselves and have self-doubt. All of this accompanies their shyness in social situations.
From all of this we can gather that people with anorexia and bulimia have different personality traits that occur often in these disorders. Perfectionism itself has been considered to be a risk factor for either of them – especially when supplemented with an unhealthy promotion of models’ bodies as the norm of a healthy body from the media, which further enhances peoples’ views and opinions about their bodies in a negative way.
People with bulimia, on average, tend to be sensation seekers, while people with anorexia do not. For both of these groups, obsessive thoughts about food, pessimism, need for control, and rigidity seem to be quite common.