Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Exploring Young Women's Perceptions of the Effectiveness and Safety of Maladaptive Weight Control Techniques

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Exploring Young Women's Perceptions of the Effectiveness and Safety of Maladaptive Weight Control Techniques

Article excerpt

It has been hypothesized that high school and college women are particularly susceptible to the development and maintenance of disturbed eating behaviors (Lester & Petrie, 1998; Rosen & Gross, 1987). Indeed, prevalence research supports that disturbed eating behaviors are common among these women. For example, large percentages of high school women indicate that they use several maladaptive weight control techniques such as fasting (39.4%), appetite suppressants (8.1%), and skipping meals (33.5%) to lose weight (Rosen & Gross, 1987). Moreover, a majority (i.e., 60%) of college women report engaging in subclinical eating behaviors such as chronic dieting and binge eating (Mintz & Betz, 1988; Scarano, 1993), and a high percentage either occasionally or regularly use extreme measures to control their weight (i.e., 69.7% indicate using fasting, diuretics, diet pills, or purging after eating; Hesse-Biber, 1989). These high prevalence rates of subclinical eating behaviors, combined with the information that .5% to 2% of young adult women have clinical eating disorders (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders [DSM-IV], American Psychiatric Association, 1994), have prompted many counselors and health care professionals to devote attention to the prevention and treatment of disordered eating behaviors among women (Scarano & Kalodner-Martin, 1994). As a result, an extensive body of literature is emerging on the origin, nature, development, and treatment of disturbed eating behaviors (e.g., Meyer & Russell, 1998; Rogers & Petrie, 1996). This literature is presented in treatment manuals (e.g., Garner & Garfinkel, 1997), journals solely devoted to the study of eating disorders (e.g., International Journal of Eating Disorders), and other journals with a broader scope (e.g., Journal of Counseling & Development, Journal of Counseling Psychology).

One trend in this literature is the movement from a focus solely on clinical eating disorders to the consideration of such clinical eating disorders as one extreme group along a continuum of degree. This trend is especially compatible with the developmental focus of the field of counseling. In an article in the Journal of Counseling & Development in 1994, Scarano and Kalodner-Martin argued that assessing and addressing different levels of severity of disturbed eating behaviors may be useful in investigating the etiology, development, and treatment of clinical eating disorders as well as subclinical eating behaviors that affect individuals' well-being. Other scholars (e.g., Mintz & Betz, 1988; Mintz, O'Halloran, Mulholland, & Schneider, 1997; Tylka & Subich, 1999) have also adopted this perspective and have worked to develop a theoretical framework for conceptualizing disturbed eating along a continuum. Focusing on different levels of eating disturbance has particular relevance for high school and college women because a majority report that they engage in unhealthy eating behaviors such as chronic dieting and binge eating, whereas only a minority meet the criteria of clinical eating disorders (Mintz & Betz, 1988; Tylka & Subich, 1999).

The continuum hypothesis of eating disorders seems to be a useful theory to organize thinking and research on the development of various subclinical and clinical eating disorders (Mintz et al., 1997; Tylka & Subich, 1999). It suggests that the fundamental differences among individuals with clinical eating disorders and individuals with milder forms of eating disturbances are a matter of degree, not kind (Mintz & Betz, 1988; Nylander, 1971; Rodin, Silberstein, & Striegel-Moore, 1985). In 1994, Scarano and Kalodner-Martin noted that the groups along the continuum share similar psychological characteristics (e.g., dissatisfaction with body image) and differ only in the frequency or severity of these characteristics and eating problems.

One issue raised when investigating the eating disorder continuum is how it should best be operationalized (Ousley, 1986). …

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