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Sumati Gupta, PhD

Dr. Gupta is a licensed psychologist and professor at Barnard College, Columbia University. She specializes in the treatment of anxiety and eating/weight issues at Tribeca Psychology in NYC

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How anxiety and perfectionism influence binge eating and dieting

Everyone experiences anxiety and some degree of perfectionism from time to time. To what extent might those qualities influence binge eating and dieting?  A new research study examined that question by following a group of college students weekly for about 3 months.

The study, released online last week, was conducted at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. Female college students completed questionnaires assessing their perfectionist personality. For the next 11 weeks they recorded their own experiences with anxiety, binge eating, and dieting.  The fact that participants were monitoring their anxiety and eating patterns every week for about 3 months is a strength of the study because it allows the researchers to notice patterns over time. Unfortunately, the researchers included only women in the study.

As one might expect, the study showed that women who were generally more anxious tended to binge eat and diet more often than women who were generally less anxious. However, when looking at each woman’s own anxiety levels, binge eating (but not dieting) increased as her anxiety increased. In other words, an individual’s own fluctuations in anxiety may contribute to binge eating more than dieting.

While anxiety in this study was an emotional state changing over time, perfectionism was assumed to be a stable personality trait. The researchers found that women who were more perfectionistic engaged in higher rates of binge eating. 

Without understanding what triggers binge eating and dieting, it’s hard to change the pattern. Some forms of psychotherapy, like cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), can help people become more aware of their own patterns related to anxiety and binge eating and then learn how to better respond to emotional triggers to binge eat. 

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Dr. Gupta is a professor at Barnard College of Columbia University and provides individual therapy at Tribeca Psychology

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