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Escaping the void, focus on the body: Identity formation and eating disorder symptomatology in community and clinical samples

Boek - Dissertatie

Eating disorders (EDs) are prevalent in adolescents and emerging adults and have a devastating influence on many life domains. Importantly, identity formation appears to be a particularly salient developmental challenge experienced by many patients with an ED. Patients with an ED have been found to experience more identity confusion, where ED symptoms could function as a maladaptive source of identity construction. Similarly, subclinical disturbed eating behavior (e.g., fasting, taking diet pills or laxatives, vomiting, binge-eating) has been related to identity issues in community samples as well. Individuals who are not able to handle identity issues in a rational or critical way, have been found to be more vulnerable to experience disturbed eating behavior. In trying to understand this identity-ED relationship, theorists have forwarded various hypotheses with respect to their developmental interdependence. However, the literature is characterized by important gaps with respect to the identity-ED interplay, as most of these hypotheses have not been empirically tested.The present project aimed to unravel the relation between ED symptomatology and identity formation in adolescence and emerging adulthood, by using cross-sectional and longitudinal data in both clinical and community samples. This approach allowed to address three innovative objectives. The first objective aimed to investigate the association between identity functioning and ED symptomatology over time in a community sample. The study comprised an empirical study on the temporal sequence of identity and ED symptomatology in a large community sample, which increased our understanding of their directionality of effects in adolescence and emerging adulthood. The second objective aimed to examine the identity-ED interplay in clinical samples. Exploring how patients with an ED are engaged in normative identity processes throughout ED treatment, broadened our understanding of how identity issues are characterized in patients with an ED. Finally, the third objective of this research project aimed to examine intervening mechanisms through which identity formation and ED symptomology may be linked. The potential developmental interplay with emotion regulation was empirically investigated.Findings of this project may provide important information for ED prevention and intervention efforts. In order to avoid further aggravation of disturbed eating in vulnerable youth, understanding how this behavior develops and is related to identity issues, is of great importance. Additionally, identifying which identity processes are especially difficult for patients with an ED, could help clinicians in developing tools that would stimulate the patient in engaging in a healthier identity formation process.
Jaar van publicatie:2021