Eating Disorder Program Helps Women Ignore Media Messages

A professor at Cornell College in Iowa has developed a dissonance-based eating disorder program that helps women combat societal messages that define self-worth by appearance.

Interventions to minimize the influence of social perceptions are sorely needed as expert’s report more people are dying from eating disorders than any other psychiatric disorder.

Dr. Melinda Green and her team recently examined 47 women in eastern Iowa who suffered from eating disorder symptoms. The women were recruited via social media, fliers posted in practitioners’ offices, local schools, and announcements in local media.

The dissonance-based eating disorder approach helps women and girls understand that appearance is not everything.

“Our intervention encourages women to criticize media messages which teach women and girls that we must be thin to be considered beautiful,” said Green.

“We also teach women and girls how to combat societal messages which teach us to define our worth in terms of our appearances.”

The results from the four-week program reveal the importance of this type of treatment to help women.

“Women who took part in the program showed fewer eating disorder symptoms. Women also showed lower levels of anxiety and fewer negative emotions,” Green said.

“Women showed higher self-esteem and greater satisfaction with their bodies. They were less likely to idealize a thin body-type and less likely to define their self-worth in terms of their appearance. They were also less likely to show several cardiac risk factors associated with eating disorders.”

Green has worked for nearly a decade to research eating disorders. In her work, she has discovered a connection between eating disorders and cardiac risks, identifying markers of cardiac risk which worsen with eating disorder symptoms and improve with treatment.

Her research has important implications for learning how to prevent and treat cardiac-related deaths in eating disorder patients. The results of this new study go even further to improve treatment and prevention options.

“Our work has a direct impact on the lives of women in eastern Iowa since the program improves the lives of women who are struggling,” Green said.

“On a national and an international level, our results help to inform the best practices in eating disorder treatment and prevention. We are working alongside leading scientists across the world to improve this treatment and prevention paradigm to make it as effective as possible.”

Source: Cornell College