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"Detaching from food" : the relationship between disordered eating and styles of attachment within a multi-racial student sample.

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A growing body of research has explored the prevalence of eating disorder pathology within the ethnically and culturally diverse South African context. The purpose of this study was to examine the presence and severity of eating disorder symptoms within a multi-racial, female student sample. In addition to this, the pathogenic role of the family was considered and framed in terms of attachment theory. Thus, a secondary aim was to explore the relationship between disordered eating and participants' membership to an attachment style and /or dimension. A questionnaire survey was administered to a convenience sample of 127 first year, female, university students. The sample included 39 (30.71%) Black, 5 (3.94%) Coloured, 29 (22.83%) Indian and 54 (42.52%) White women. Levels of disordered eating were measured by the Eating Disorder Inventory 1 (EDI 1). Attachment styles were determined by means of the Close Relationship Questionnaire (CRQ) and attachment dimensions were calculated by means of the Adult Attachment Scale (AAS). It was found that Black students had higher mean scores on seven of the eight EDI 1 subscales than their Indian and White peers. There were significant differences noted on the EDI 1 sub-scales of Bulimia (p < .01), Perfectionism (p < .05), and Interpersonal Distrust (p < .05). White participants scored highest on the Body Dissatisfaction sub-scale. A negative relationship was indicated between the eight EDI 1 sub-scales and the secure attachment dimension (Close). A positive relationship was found between the eight EDI sub-scales and the two insecure attachment dimensions (Depend and Anxiety). Significant differences were found between the race groups in terms of the classification of participants into three attachment styles /dimensions. This research supports previous findings with regard to high levels of eating disordered pathology among Black women. Furthermore, support of a relationship between disordered eating and participants' attachment in close relationships was indicated. In particular, the psychological struggles implicated in disordered eating such as feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness, mistrust of others, and difficulty with emotions, were found to be significantly associated with unhealthy or insecure attachment patterns that reflected difficulty with trust and dependency in close relationships.


Thesis (M.A.)-University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, 2004.


Eating disorders--South Africa., Eating disorders--Cross-cultural studies., Women--Mental health., Eating disorders--Social aspects., Interpersonal relations., Attachment behaviour., Theses--Psychology.