Eating Disorders

– Dr Alessandra Saggin

Dr Saggin, with a group of Italian clinical psychologists and doctors, is interested in the possible impact of an individual’s cognitive style on the type of eating disorder that individual may have. Dr Saggin derived from A-I theory a set of hypotheses. Those who become anorexic have not only a faulty image of their appearance (not seemingly related to style) but also a ruthless determination to follow a diet regimen even up to death. The latter adherence to a system may have drifted outside normal behaviour and may be related to adaptive style. Conversely, she reasoned, binge eaters have a better appreciation of self-image (at least in this respect) but are likely to be significantly less comfortable in having to set a severe regimen and then to keep to it, with little lapse, for long periods. This seems to be more akin to innovative style. Finally, she supposed that the bulimic response to weight problems might be an alternating style swing more likely to occur to those falling in the middle of the A-I range.

Using a pilot sample of 57 women who had some kind of dietary problems she divided the sample into sub-sets. One sub-set of 21 women had problems unrelated to weight variation – these acted as controls. The other three sets were diagnosed as: Anorexic (8); Bulimic (9) and Binge Eaters (19).

The data is below (note that the female mean is approximately 92, s.d. 17):

  Anorexic: Control: Bulimia: Binge Eater:
Mean 76.75 92.95 102.66 111.11
(s.d.) (12.41) (16.92) (12.67) (14.75)

These pilot results did not challenge their theory-derived hypotheses. Note that the standard deviations were all noticeably narrower than that of the general population (male or female); in fact the anorexic and binge eater sub-set ranges did not even overlap. This pilot is encouraging and needs fuller study, with larger samples and wider (but carefully selected) variable input.

The implications are that failed problem solving is affected by cognitive style as any other problem solving. In which case, the therapy regimen and the therapist approach towards the patient, to encourage full collaboration in seeking recovery, need to take patient’s cognitive style into account.

This note is based on a report and data supplied to Dr Kirton by Dr Saggin.
This surely must be one of the more brilliant uses of A-I theory reported, with considerable implication for further study.