Unattainable Goals Can Be Unhealthy

Perfectionism puts adolescent girls at greater risk of eating disorders later in life

SATURDAY, Nov. 30, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- Perfectionism and unhealthy eating habits can combine to put adolescent girls at risk for becoming anorexic later in life, says an American study in the International Journal of Eating Disorders.

The study also found that girls who reported symptoms of depression and had bulimic tendencies such as binge eating and occasional purging were more likely to develop full-blown bulimia.

Researchers interviewed 157 predominantly white, middle-to-upper class girls attending private school in New York City. The girls were interviewed when they were between the ages of 12 and 16 and interviewed twice more, when they were 14 to 18 and when they were 20 to 24 years old.

Girls who were perfectionists and had symptoms of anorexia nervosa in their younger years were more likely to develop full-blown anorexia nervosa by the time they reached their early 20s, the study found.

These girls felt they were failures if they weren't able to meet unattainable goals they set for themselves, the study authors say. That includes goals in general, not just body image goals.

It may be that the girls feel their bodies are one thing they have more control over and they can meet their body goals, even if they're extremely unhealthy, suggests researcher Julia Graber, a University of Florida psychology professor, in a prepared statement.

About 20 per cent of adolescent girls and young women have signs of eating disorders. There can be serious consequences if they develop into full-blown eating disorders.

For example, anorexia can lead to the deterioration of heart muscles and development of severe heart problems. The constant vomiting associated with bulimia can cause damage to the gastrointestinal tract.

It's estimated that as many 3.7 per cent of women suffer from anorexia nervosa and as many as 4.2 per cent have bulimia in their lifetimes, says the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health.

More Information

The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more about eating disorders.

SOURCE: University of Florida, news release, November 2002
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