Socializing problems and low self-esteem enhance interpersonal models of eating disorders: Evidence from a clinical sample
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Objective: The present study evaluated the relative clinical validity of two interpersonal models of the maintenance of eating disorders, IPT-ED (Rieger et al., ) and the interpersonal model of binge eating (Wilfley, MacKenzie, Welch, Ayres, & Weissman, ; Wilfley, Pike, & Striegel-Moore, ). While both models propose an indirect relationship between interpersonal problems and eating disorder symptoms via negative affect, IPT-ED specifies negative social evaluation as the key interpersonal problem, and places greater emphasis on the role of low self-esteem as an intermediate variable between negative social evaluation and eating pathology. Method: Treatment-seeking individuals (N=306) with a diagnosed eating disorder completed measures of socializing problems, generic interpersonal problems, self-esteem, eating disorder symptoms, and negative affect (depression and anxiety). Structural equation models were run for both models. Results: Consistent with IPT-ED, a significant indirect pathway was found from socializing problems to eating disorder symptoms via low self-esteem and anxiety symptoms. There was also a direct pathway from low self-esteem to eating disorder symptoms. Using a socializing problems factor in the model resulted in a significantly better fit than a generic interpersonal problems factor. Inconsistent with both interpersonal models, the direct pathway from socializing problems to eating disorder symptoms was not supported. Discussion: Interpersonal models that included self-esteem and focused on socializing problems (rather than generic interpersonal problems) explained more variance in eating disorder symptoms. Future experimental, prospective, and treatment studies are required to strengthen the case that these pathways are causal.
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