Understanding relations between intolerance of uncertainty and body checking and body avoiding in anorexia nervosa

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Abstract

Background: A key feature of anorexia nervosa is body image disturbances and is often expressed by dysfunctional body-related behaviours such as body checking and body avoiding. These behaviours are thought to contribute to both the maintenance and relapse of AN, yet empirical evidence is scarce. One variable that may contribute to the need for engaging in these behaviours is intolerance of uncertainty. This study aims to investigate body checking and body avoiding and its relations with intolerance of uncertainty in women with anorexia nervosa (AN-ill; 70), women recovered from AN (AN-rec; 85) and control group (127).

Methods: Three questionnaires were completed, measuring eating pathology, intolerance of uncertainty and body checking and body avoiding. One-way ANOVAS were used to test group differences. Moderation analyses were used to investigate associations between variables.

Results: Levels of intolerance of uncertainty, body checking and body avoiding were highest in AN-ill followed by AN-rec and, lastly, the control group, confirming group differences. Intolerance of uncertainty was associated with body checking in the AN-rec group and the control group but not in the AN-ill group. The association between intolerance of uncertainty and body avoiding was reported in the AN-rec group and only marginally in the control group.

Conclusion: Levels of intolerance of uncertainty, body checking and body avoiding were highest in AN-ill, however still elevated in AN-rec, confirming the presence of body image disturbances, even after recovery. The unique associations between intolerance of uncertainty and body checking and body avoiding within the studied groups may represent different stages of the illness. In the AN-rec group, the relation between intolerance of uncertainty, body checking and body avoiding may be driven by trait anxiety. For AN-ill group, body checking and body avoiding may eventually have grown into habitual patterns, rather than a strategy to ameliorate anxiety and uncertainty.

Plain English summary: Women with anorexia nervosa often experience disturbances in their body image and are expressed in body-related behaviours such as body checking and body avoiding. These behaviours are thought to contribute to both the maintenance and relapse of anorexia nervosa. Intolerance of uncertainty is defined as the incapacity to tolerate uncertainty and may contribute to the need for engaging in these behaviours. This study aims to investigate body checking and body avoiding and its relations with intolerance of uncertainty in women with anorexia nervosa (AN-ill; 70), women recovered from AN (AN-rec; 85) and control group (127). Three questionnaires were completed, measuring eating pathology, intolerance of uncertainty and body checking and body avoiding. Levels of intolerance of uncertainty, body checking and body avoiding were highest in AN-ill and still elevated in AN-rec, even after recovery. The associations between intolerance of uncertainty and body checking and body avoiding within the studied groups may represent different stages of the illness. In the AN-rec group, the relation between intolerance of uncertainty, body checking and body avoiding may be driven by trait anxiety. For AN-ill group, body checking and body avoiding may have grown into habitual patterns, rather than a strategy to ameliorate anxiety and uncertainty.

Original languageEnglish
Article number122
Pages (from-to)1-10
JournalJournal of Eating Disorders
Volume10
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 18 Aug 2022

Keywords

  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Body avoiding
  • Body checking
  • Intolerance of uncertainty
  • Recovered

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