Clinical Psychiatry Open Access

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The Mediating Role of Emotional Distress in the Relationship between Differentiation of Self and the Risk of Eating Disorders among Young Adults

Ora Peleg*, Meyran Boniel-Nissim and Orna Tzischinsky

Background: The prevalence of eating disorders (EDs) is on the rise among male and female young adults. Given that most studies have focused on adolescents and that there is a lack of research regarding EDs among young adults, the current study aimed to examine this age group. In addition, based on findings indicating that emotional distress may increase the risk of EDs, and that it is associated with differentiation of self (DoS), the main goal of the current study was to investigate whether emotional distress mediates the relationship between DoS (emotional reactivity, I-position, emotional cut off, fusion with others) and the risk of EDs.

Methods: A sample of 421 non-clinical participants was recruited to fill out questionnaires. Preliminary analyses examined differences between males and females using t-tests. In addition, Pearson correlations were run to examine the association between background variables and the study metrics among both males and females. Due to a gender moderation effect, two mediation models were examined, one for women and one for men, using path analysis.

Results: Young adult women reported higher levels of risk for developing EDs than young adult men. Among women, emotional distress mediated the relationship between three metrics of DoS (emotional reactivity, I-position, fusion with others) and three metrics of EDs (drive for thinness, bulimic tendencies, and body dissatisfaction). Among men, similar associations were found, except for fusion with others which was not found to be associated with emotional distress.

Conclusion: It is concluded that DoS may increase the risk of EDs through the mediation of emotional distress. It appears that people with a high risk of EDs have difficulties maintaining intimate relationships. When they feel overwhelmed, they rarely share their feelings and stick to their thoughts. The results are consistent with Kerr and Bowen’s Family Systems Theory that suggests that DoS dimensions rooted in early family experiences impact one’s mental and physical health.

Trial registration: Retrospectively registered.

Published Date: 2022-06-27; Received Date: 2022-05-30