Attachment anxiety has been linked to binge eating, and both phenomena could reasonably be associated with a fear of becoming fat. A survey administered to undergraduate students revealed a relationship between attachment anxiety and fear of becoming fat, and that this relationship is a consequence of binge eating behaviour.
Researchers are exploring whether eating disorders could be usefully studied in the context of attachment theory, a psychological model that attempts to explain strategies individuals use to form and maintain social relationships. Attachment anxiety is a type of insecure bonding in the context of intimate relationships. It is characterized by heightened sensitivity to social rejection, negative views of the self, and maladaptive patterns of emotional regulation. High attachment anxiety has also been linked to an increased propensity to binge eat. Binge eating, in turn, can lead to obesity, which is often accompanied by negative societal judgments. Since attachment anxiety is associated with both sensitivity to social rejection and binge eating, and since binge eating produces a potential risk for becoming obese, fear of becoming fat could be involved in the relationship between attachment anxiety and binge eating.
A study published in PeerJ explored relationships between attachment anxiety, binge eating, and fear of becoming fat. 148 undergraduates (129 women, 19 men) were administered surveys that measured attachment anxiety, binge eating habits, and fear of becoming fat. Body mass index was also (BMI) measured. The study examined correlations between measures and conducted two mediation analyses to more precisely determine the nature of the relationships between variables. Specifically, the analyses examined whether binge eating mediated the relationship between attachment anxiety and fear of becoming fat, and whether fear of becoming fat mediated the relationship between anxious attachment and binge eating. The mediation analyses involved including both the independent variable (attachment anxiety) and a potential mediator variable in a multiple regression statistical analysis; a significant mediation effect was indicated if the inclusion of the mediator variable in the analysis diminished the effect of attachment anxiety.
Attachment anxiety, binge eating, and fear of becoming fat were all positively correlated with each other. Binge eating and fear of becoming fat, but not attachment anxiety, were positively correlated with BMI. The link between attachment anxiety and fear of becoming fat was mediated by binge-eating. In contrast, ‘fear of becoming fat’ did not mediate the relationship between attachment anxiety and binge eating. In short, the article states, “individuals with increased attachment anxiety do not binge eat because they fear becoming fat, but rather, fear becoming fat because they binge eat.”
The study provides the first demonstration of a relationship between attachment anxiety and fear of becoming fat. The results align with predictions from attachment theory; in individuals with high attachment anxiety that engage in binge eating, fear of becoming fat provides a specific instance of the generalized fear of social rejection seen in attachment anxiety. One noteworthy limitation of the study is that it included few male participants, so the extent to which these patterns can be generalized to both sexes is unclear. The results of this study refine our understanding of the psychological underpinnings of eating disorders, which could aid in developing treatment interventions.
Written By: Jeffrey Zeyl