Personality and Eating Disorders

Eating disorders and personality disorders can start to appear in early adolescence for many individuals, often co-occurring together. In fact, it is estimated that around 25 percent of people who have anorexia nervosa are also living with borderline personality disorder or BPD. Additionally, 28 percent of the people who present bulimia nervosa personality characteristics also have borderline personality disorder. What is it that connects these two common disorders? Research shows that the development of eating disorders and personality disorders has much to do with temperament, which can affect adolescents in many different ways.

Understanding Co-Occurring Disorders: Personality and Eating Disorders

At least 30 million Americans of all ages and genders are living with one or more eating disorder. Research also shows that eating disorders have the highest mortality rate out of any mental illness. The personality traits associated with eating disorders are very similar to those identified with personality disorders like BPD. That is why early detection of eating disorders and treatment is so essential to help improve a patients chances of making a full recovery. But when parents and doctors are faced with both borderline personality disorder and binge eating disorder or anorexia nervosa, treatment can be more complicated.

What Is Borderline Personality Disorder?

Borderline personality disorder is a serious mental illness that is most often characterized by changing moods and behaviors, poor self-image and difficulty maintaining close interpersonal relationships. This biopsychosocial disorder often stems from the combination of a highly emotionally sensitive temperament and the early perception that an individual is living in an invalidating environment. Many eating disorder personality traits are similar to those identified in common personality disorders like BPD.

Psychological Characteristics of Bulimia Nervosa

Individuals with bulimia nervosa engage in binge eating episodes followed by one or more methods of purging including vomiting, the overuse of laxatives, excessive exercise and/or restricting. BPD and other personality disorders often send individuals on the same “rollercoaster ride” of emotions and actions. With bulimia nervosa, a person will often uncontrollably overeat then feel a great need to get rid of the food they just consumed. They may also be dealing with feelings of shame and revolution at the amount of food or calories ingested and then feel the need to be void of the food eaten all together.

Anorexia Nervosa and Personality Disorders

Individuals with anorexia nervosa often show signs of obsessive behavior in regards to their overall weight or caloric intake. Parents may notice that their children make excuses not to eat with others, hide their body shape in baggy clothing and show a keen interest in cooking meals for others without enjoying the meal themselves.

Narcissism and Eating Disorders

Many studies also suggest that narcissism and eating disorders such as bulimia nervosa may have several links as well. In fact, narcissistic personality disorder can be found in up to 16 percent of eating disorder patients. Research shows that many bulimic attitudes and behaviors are closely associated with classic narcissistic personality traits. Some of the common symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder include:

  • An elevated sense of self-worth or seeing themselves as inherently better than others
  • Fragile self-esteem
  • Perfectionism and the inability to handle criticism
  • Compensating for fragility by bullying or putting others down to make themselves feel more important
  • Often behaving coldly or lacking empathy for others

As personality and eating disorders go, a co-occurring diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder and bulimia nervosa can mean that specialized treatment is necessary to help give patients the best chance of making a full recovery.

Finding Treatment That Works

Co-occurring personality disorders can be tough to diagnose but once adolescents and their families do have a clear diagnosis, seeking proper treatment is crucial. Not only can eating disorders like binge eating and anorexia make living with personality disorders more difficult but the longer they are left untreated, the harder it can be to make a full recovery.

At Oliver-Pyatt Centers, patients can find a number of different treatment options available. With many years of combined experience and hands-on training, our patients have access to treatment options that place a higher focus on medical and psychiatric care than other eating disorder treatment centers across the country. For more information on the eating disorder treatment services offered at Oliver-Pyatt Centers and our affiliate programs, please contact us online today.