Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science

Disordered Eating Behaviours in an Undergraduate Sample: Associations among Gender, Body Mass Index, and Difficulties in Emotion Regulation

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science

Disordered Eating Behaviours in an Undergraduate Sample: Associations among Gender, Body Mass Index, and Difficulties in Emotion Regulation

Article excerpt

The ability of individuals to recognise and regulate their emotions is known as emotion regulation. It is well established that difficulties in emotion regulation are associated with disordered eating. The present study explored the relationships among gender, body mass index, difficulties in emotion regulation, and disordered eating behaviours in a nonclinical sample of men and women. As part of a larger study, men (n = 85) and women (n = 165) from undergraduate university programs provided weight and height information and completed the Difficulties in Emotion Regulation Scale and the Eating Attitudes Test. Results from regression analyses suggest that, in a nonclinical sample, gender, body mass index, and specific difficulties in emotion regulation are related to disordered eating attitudes and behaviours. With respect to dieting, some of these relationships are more complex and involve interactions between BM1 and both gender and impulse control.

Keywords: gender, emotion regulation, disordered eating, nonclinical

Emotions provide invaluable information necessary for human survival (Nesse & Ellsworth, 2009). The process of recognising and moderating the experience and expression of an emotion as well as its evoked physiological response is referred to by some researchers as emotion regulation (Gross & Feldman Barrett, 2011 ; Izard et al., 2011). Optimal emotion regulation involves the ability to recognise emotions and respond to them in a flexible and adaptive way (Paivio & Pascual-Leone, 2010). Whether emotion regulation is a distinct process or part of a more complex emotional response is a topic of debate in the literature (Gross & Feldmann Barrett, 2011). However, many researchers and clinicians agree that difficulties in emotion regulation are a key feature across several mental disorders and maladaptive behaviours (see Aldao, Nolen-Hoeksema and Schweizer [2010] for a review). In fact, difficulties in emotion regulation are related to more than half of all Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition (DSM-IV; American Psychiatric Association, 2000) Axis I disorders and all of the DSM-TV Axis II disorders (Cole, Michel, & O'Donnell Teti, 1994). Emotion regulation is also the target of various therapies, including emotion-focused therapy (Greenberg, 2004), dialectical behaviour therapy (Lynch, Chapman, Rosenthal, Kuo & Linehan, 2006), and enhanced cognitive behaviour therapy for eating disorders (Fairbum, 2008).

Gratz and Roemer (2004) describe six different (yet related) skills that are involved in emotion regulation including identifying emotions, accurately labelling emotions, using strategies to regulate an emotion, accepting an emotion, engaging in goal-directed behaviour, and exhibiting self-control while experiencing an emotion. These skills can be conceptualised as encompassing the awareness and understanding of emotion, as well as the ability to act or inhibit a maladaptive action in response to a strong negative emotion. According to Gratz and Roemer (2004), the relative absence of either or all of these skills will relate to difficulties in emotion regulation, or emotion dysregulation.

In terms of emotion regulation and maladaptive behaviours, recent research has considered the role of gender as a possible moderator. The disposition hypothesis suggests that men and women respond differently to emotion, and that these differences may be rooted in genetics and early learning (Tamres, Janicki, & Helgeson, 2002). A recent review examined the different relationships among gender, emotion regulation, and psychopathology and found that, overall, although women report using more emotion regulation skills than do men, emotion regulation is related to psychopathology in both men and women (Nolen-Hoeksema, 2012). The author also concluded that too little is known regarding the ways in which men regulate their emotions and that far more research is needed to further understand the complex relationships among gender, emotion regulation and psychopathology (NolenHoeksema, 2012). …

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