A recently published study of college-age women shows there is a connection between the two, though not a direct one. Childhood sexual abuse is not a significant risk factor on its own, but it is when combined with psychological distress (depression or anxiety) and a condition of emotional disconnection known as alexithymia, say study authors Anita Hund and Dorothy Espelage, both with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
"Those factors appear to play an important role not only in how eating disorders get started, but more importantly in how they keep going," according to Hund, a doctoral student in educational psychology at Illinois and the lead author of the study, published in the October issue of the Journal of Counseling Psychology.
"What sends one woman over the line, and not her classmate (with a similar background), probably has a lot to do with how they experience emotions," Hund said. If those factors can be addressed through counseling, it holds promise for reducing a woman's risk for developing a disorder, she said.
The study's results validate a lot of what many counselors and clinicians already believe or suspect, according to Espelage, a professor of educational psychology at Illinois and co-author of the study. The results also have consequences for the treatment of eating disorders and related behaviors on college campuses, she said.
Many women on campuses engage in disordered eating behaviors, from severe restriction or dieting, to binging and purging, Espelage said.
Among those are women who come to campus with no history of such behaviors, "but begin to feel dissatisfied with their bodies in a very competitive environment and engage in disordered eating for
Contact: Craig Chamberlain, Education Editor
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign