OBJECTIVE: Food-related anxiety and avoidance are key features of anorexia nervosa, and among the most arduous maintaining processes to address in treatment. This study gathered information on the behavioural and cognitive correlates of food-related anxiety, including their associations with early experiences of aversive learning related to food, and more general anxiety.
METHODS: One-hundred and forty-four patients with anorexia nervosa were recruited from clinical services in Italy. They completed online questionnaires to assess food-related anxiety, eating disorder psychopathology, eating disorder safety behaviours and threat cognitions, early experience of aversive learning related to food, and somatic anxiety.
RESULTS: Experiences of food-related aversive learning were recalled by the majority of the sample (87.86%), with negative psychological consequences following eating being the most often reported (75%). Safety behaviours and threat cognitions related to the consequences of eating were also reported (14.29%-87.86%, and 36.43-90% respectively, depending on the behaviour/cognition). Eating disorder psychopathology was predicted by both somatic anxiety and negative psychological consequences following eating, whereas self-reported food anxiety was only predicted by somatic anxiety.
CONCLUSION: Findings validate an anxiety-based model of anorexia nervosa which establishes the role of safety behaviours, threat cognitions, early aversive learning experiences, and anxiety in the psychopathology of the illness. Exposure-based interventions have the potential to target these factors, and inhibit food-related fear.
- Feeding and Eating Disorders