Premorbid and illness-related social difficulties in eating disorders: An overview of the literature and treatment developments

Valentina Cardi*, Kate Tchanturia, Janet Treasure

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

57 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Social difficulties in eating disorders can manifest as predisposing traits and premorbid difficulties, and/or as consequences of the illness. Objective: The aim of this paper is to briefly review the evidence of social problems in people with eating disorders and to consider the literature on treatments that target these features. Method: A narrative review of the literature was conducted. Results: People with eating disorders often manifest traits, such as shyness, increased tendency to submissiveness and social comparison, and problems with peer relationships before illness onset. Further social difficulties occur as the illness develops, including impaired social cognition and increased threat sensitivity. All relationships with family, peers and therapists are compromised by these effects. Thus, social difficulties are both risk and maintaining factors of eating disorders and are suitable targets for interventions. Several forms of generic treatments (e.g. interpersonal psychotherapy, cognitive analytic therapy, focal psychodynamic therapy) have an interpersonal focus and show some efficacy. Guided self-management based on the cognitive interpersonal model of the illness directed to both individuals and support persons has been found to improve outcomes for all parties. Adjunctive treatments that focus on specific social difficulties, such as cognitive remediation and emotion skills training and cognitive bias modification have been shown to have a promising role. Conclusion: More work is needed to establish whether these approaches can improve on the rather disappointing outcomes that are attained by currently used treatments for eating disorders.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1122-1130
Number of pages9
JournalCurrent Neuropharmacology
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2018


  • Anorexia
  • Bulimia
  • Cognition
  • Eating disorders
  • Emotion
  • Social
  • Treatment


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