Experiential Avoidance and Disordered Eating Pathology
Wischenka, Danielle M
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Background: Experiential avoidance (EA), which has been defined as unwillingness to remain in contact with and action taken to alter aversive experiences, becomes maladaptive if it leads to rigid and inflexible patterns such as disordered eating pathology (DEP). Purpose: The present study was conducted to examine connections between DEP, EA, psychological distress (including depression and anxiety), and compulsive exercise. It was hypothesized that EA would mediate the relationship between DEP and depression, as well as between DEP and anxiety. It was also hypothesized that DEP would mediate the relationship between compulsive exercise and psychological distress. Exploratory hypotheses examined the role of gender differences in the relationship between DEP and psychological distress. Methods: Study participants, who were recruited via subject pools, research forums, and social media, provided informed consent and completed an on-line cross-sectional survey that included the EAT-26 (Eating Attitudes Test-26), DASS-21 (Depression Anxiety Stress Scale-21), MEAQ (Multidimensional Experiential Avoidance Questionnaire), and OEQ (Obligatory Exercise Questionnaire). Exclusion criteria included being currently pregnant or treatment seeking. Results: Participants (n = 1249) had a mean age of 41.95 years (15.41); 57% self-identified as White/Caucasian (72%); 57% were employed; and 59.6% were female. EA partially mediated the relationships between depression and DEP (b = .079, SE =.018, p <.001), as well as between anxiety and DEP (b = .113, SE =.021, p <.001. ANOVA test indicated a significant effect of gender on Behavioral Avoidance [F (1, 1242) = 16.95, p<.001], supporting the hypothesis that males engaged in less Behavioral Avoidance, and Distraction and Suppression [F (1, 1242) = 5.60, p = .0181 strategies than females. Conclusions: EA was related to DEP, EA also partially mediated the relationship between DEP and psychological distress. Differences between EA strategies were observed among the sexes. Findings suggest presence of high EA is related to other maladaptive behaviors such as DEP. Results also suggest that females may have higher levels of EA, psychological distress, and DEP in general. Future studies should aim to further understand EA in the context of DEP, perhaps by testing the relationship between these and related constructs overtime in order to develop a more comprehensive and causative model of EA.