Personality Predisposition

Yes, believe it or not, there are personality traits that can predispose one to disordered eating and/or eating disorders. And our personalities are molded by both the genes we inherit and our individual life experiences.

Eating disorders have traits that are specific to them, but there are those that are applicable to all. Perfectionism is one such trait, and is frequently correlated with increased risk. Those with a perpetual and intense need to be perfect have a higher chance of falling prey to and suffering longer from these disorders. This self-imposed and dangerous trait (often a learnt behavior) significantly influences how a person behaves and predisposes them to obsession surrounding how they manage their weight and their eating. Our overall culture makes falling prey to perfectionism almost encouraged and applauded. Often perfectionist people thrive for external validation, ultimately separating their behaviors from their authentic self, giving them the harmful feeling that no one truly knows them.

In the Jewish orthodox culture this need for perfection is especially pervasive. There are pressures placed on the girls for perfection that extend to so many areas of their lives. The ideal that a girl should be able to get everything done and do all that is expected of her successfully, can place an unrealistic expectation that sets her up to fail. The example set by mothers is often one of the “superwoman ideal”, able to have many children, take good care of them, work, cook, have guests over often, and never need to take a break. A daughter seeing all of this may perceive standards that are impossible to live up to. Sadly, there is no endgame for perfectionists. There is no sense of attained fulfilment as they tend to look for additional challenges and areas within which to excel. This can lead to sadness and dissatisfaction as the affected person is never able to be happy with who they are and what they have achieved, as they are in constant need of a more ambitious and aggressive challenges.

Temperament is another aspect of personality that can affect risk. Those with greater level of negative emotionality, including higher levels of anger, fear, and sadness, have greater propensity to develop an eating disorder. This is also true for those with lower levels of self-control since they have reduced self-regulatory abilities. These specific temperament traits lead to negative self-body evaluation and body size perception, both recognized as risk factors for and precursors to disordered eating and eating disorders. Individuals who struggle with poor interpersonal relationships or who tend to be shy and inhibited are also at increased risk. Some other character traits include impulsive, novelty seeking, high levels of persistence, extreme harm avoidance, as well as those who are rule-driven and inflexible. Of course, not everyone with these character or personality traits will develop an eating disorder, however, the presence of them does indeed increase risk and factors into a person’s overall risk for them.

In my research, the “superwoman ideal” and the risk of perfectionism were highly prevalent and recurring themes and thus merit more in depth posts in the future.

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