Monday, April 1, 2013

Three Eating Disorder Personality Groups

For years, I have questioned why I developed an eating disorder. My childhood was as close to perfect as it gets and I never went through any terribly traumatic experiences. So I am constantly questioning why me? As a result, self critical thoughts take over and my guilt continues to build.

A few days ago, a dear friend of mine suggested that I read the book "Gaining: The Truth About Life After Eating Disorders" written by Aimee Liu. No more than an hour later I had downloaded it to my Ipad and haven't been able to put it down since. 

In the second chapter Liu refers to a study done in 2001 at Boston University suggesting, "People with anorexia and bulimia, they found, tend to fall into three distinct - and mostly lifelong - temperamental groups, all marked by high anxiety."  

According to this study, the first group is called the over-controlled group which,
"Includes most restricting anorexics and a majority of bulimics. They "feel like they have nothing inside." They avoid social contact; tightly control their appetites for food and for sex; limit their pleasures; and withdraw from excitement, sensation, and risk."
The second group is a group called the perfectionistic group and includes,
"Most bulimics and minority of restricting anorexics. These are the conscientious "good girls" who aim to please, excel, and conform. They worry about the details but are often so fearful of making a mistake that they can't get their work in on time. They read an arched eyebrow as contempt, a frown as a stiletto through the heart. They are intensely self critical."
The third and final group is called the under-controlled group which,
"Is split about evenly between bulimics and anorexics who binge and purge. Their emotions are intense, their behaviors are impulsive, they tend to fly into rages instead of expressing their anger passively or turning it inward, and they desperately seek relationships to soothe themselves. Like human metronomes, this group might start a diet because their boyfriends tease them, succumb to a billboard's temptation by stealing a Big Mac, then purge after seeing a magazine article about how much Mary-Kate Olsen weighs."
After re-reading this section of the chapter, I stopped and tried to put myself into one of these categories. The problem was, however, I could see a little bit of myself in each of these groups; my social anxiety falls into the over-controlled group, the "good girl" persona, need to excel, conform, and fear of making mistakes in my life put in the perfectionistic group, and I eventually felt a need to escape my "goodie-two-shoes" ways, which resulted in alcohol abuse and put me in the under-controlled group.

The study from Boston University discussed in this chapter, also suggests that people who do not have eating disorders rarely fit these personality categories; while those with eating disorders almost always fall into one or more of them. To me, this just proves that eating disorders are not strictly about food and weight loss, like some people often believe. Eating disorders dig much deeper and unfortunately, these personality traits are biologically a part of who we are. 

As this chapter came to an end, I put my Ipad down and began to think about my eating disorder in a different light; maybe it is not my fault. Maybe certain people are just born with certain anxiety related personality traits that cause them to be more prone to developing an eating disorder. Maybe I can stop placing false blame on myself for being weak and inadequate. Just like some people are born with laziness or lack of organization, I was born with perfectionist tendencies and issues with control. 

I might not necessarily like these personality traits of mine, but recognizing them will only help me learn to deal with them differently. Instead of being an all-or-nothing personality type, slowly, I can learn to see shades of grey.

Today, thanks to my new knowledge and this awesome book (thanks Lia!), I will breathe a little easier knowing this eating disorder is not 100% my fault. 



  1. As I was reading this, I put myself into all three categories for different reasons as well.
    I believe that I started out as under-controlled, that was my beginning point, but I was always the over-controlled personality, but at the same time I've always forced myself into trying my hardest, even harder then my hardest, to be a perfectionist. It's confusing to think that I have all these ED categories to fit myself into, but it makes a lot more sense.
    This, my dear girl, is progress! :)

    1. It is definitely a little confusing, but also interesting to learn that our personalities can change with the disorder. And sometimes certain traits make us more prone to certain symptoms. Like your comment on a different post, it's all about the individual- EVERYONE is different.

  2. hey kelsi :)

    you're right, your eating disorder is definitely not your fault. but it's hard to see that, of course. especially if society tells you that you choose to eat or not to eat...

    could you maybe post author and title of that boston (2001) article? i'd love to read the original! (I'm a psych major, have an ED and I'm currently doing a lot of research on personality... so this article makes me incredibly courious! :) ).

    thanks a lot in advance! <3

    1. Hi, of course I can give you the author of the study- It was written by Drew Westen & Jennifer Harnden-Fischer. I almost went into psych, so I am always interested in what other people are doing to study personality and EDs. Best of luck to you! Let me know if you have any trouble finding this study, I'd be happy to help if needed.:)

    2. hi, thanks a lot, i found it and i'm really looking forward to reading it later!
      hope you're having a good day!

      and thank you for writing your amazing blog and sharing your thoughts and experiences. it really helps a lot to know one is not the only person in the world having these thoughts and impressions.

    3. Glad you found it! Thank YOU for reading & making me feel less alone through this process, too! <3

  3. It is definitely not your fault. It is actually not even anybody's fault or even the society. If it is the society's fault, then, why do only some get affected by this? Somehow, somewhere along in our pasts, we developed this disorder. We didn't know what's happening, and we just did what we thought that would be good for us. It was our survival skill, but when we realize that we don't need it, it's the time for us to let go. When does this happen? It depends on individual, because everybody has the different path. I fall into the first 2 categories mostly, but my emotions are extremely intense. So, a little for the 3rd one too. It's good to know where we were from, but it's more important to look ahead. Someone said, "when you are driving, you can't keep looking back! You need to know where you are going!" You are beautiful, Kelsi. Love,

    1. Aw, thank you so much! You just wrote some great insight, I hope you learn to take your own advice. ;-) At first, I fell into the first 2 categories too, but the author also says toward the end of the chapter,
      "There is a degree of crossover, particularly between the perfectionists and the undercontrolled group, and particularly during RECOVERY. About half of all restricting anorexics pass, as I did, through a state of bulimia on their weight to normal weight. In my case, I reached a point where I felt desperate to escape my tense little good-girl persona."
      Which I thought was fascinating and thought I should pass along to you! :) xoxo