Pride can be a tricky thing. It can, however, be a very positive signal that we’ve accomplished a goal. Feeling proud is a natural, and usually positive, emotion. But for some, it can be a driving force that leads them down a dark path.
New research conducted through Rutgers University shows pride about continued weight loss may fuel eating disorders like anorexia. Nearly 120 women being treated for anorexia nervosa were studied and had their emotional states evaluated over a two-week period.
Researchers found participants in the study experienced negative emotions and positive emotions, especially a sense of pride over their perceived success in losing and continuing to lose weight.
“What we think happens is that positive emotions become exaggerated and are rewarding these maladaptive behaviors,” said Edward Selby, an author of the study. “Since only about one-third of women recover after treatment, what we need to do is gain a better understanding of why these positive emotions become so strongly associated with weight loss rather than with a healthy association such as family, school or relationships.”
Anyone who has been on a weight loss journey of their own can attest to the subtle power pride can have over your common sense. You lose some weight, see the results, and begin to think of ways to see even more results or see them even faster. For some, it means exercising more often. For others, pride in their accomplishment can lead to skipping meals to lose a couple more pounds.
This process can lead to eating disorders like anorexia, which has a death rate 12 times higher than all other causes of death for women between the ages of 15 and 24.
It was found in the study that women who had the most difficulty recognizing when their positive emotions like pride became skewed were more likely to engage in behaviors like restricting calories, excessively exercising and constantly checking their weight.
Selby believes an important part of treatment is helping channel the positive emotions into constructive behaviors.
“Being in control is important for many of these women,” he said. “What we need to do is find a way to reconnect the positive emotions they feel in losing weight to other aspects of their lives that will lead to a more balanced sense of happiness.”