Objective: Perfectionism, poor self-esteem and stress have all been described as important risk factors for eating disorders. The purpose of this study was to assess whether a stressful situation is significantly correlated to and associated with significantly higher levels of perfectionism, stress, quantifiable measures of eating disorders, and with significantly lower levels of self-esteem in a non-clinical sample.
Method: Thirty-five female university students completed the Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale, the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale, the Perceived Stress Scale, and the Eating Disorder Inventory two times; once on an average university day and once on the day of an exam. Descriptive statistics and t-tests were calculated to verify whether a stressful situation was associated with a significant difference in levels of perfectionism, self-esteem, stress, and measures of eating disorders. Bivariate correlations were calculated for both the stress and non-stress situation, to observe how the dimensions of perfectionism, self-esteem, and stress were associated with measures of eating disorders.
Results: During the stress situation, the study participants had, on average, significantly higher levels of concern over mistakes, body dissatisfaction, drive for thinness, and perceived stress. Bivariate correlations revealed that during the stress situation perceived stress, cognitive variables and measures of eating disorders showed significant correlations with each other that were absent in the non stress situation.
Discussion: The results of the present study suggest that the dimensions of pathological perfectionism, low self-esteem, and perceived stress are related to an increase in dieting thoughts and dissatisfaction with body aspect in non-clinical women during a performance that could potentially challenge the perception of their self-esteem. The stressful situation can be interpreted as an experience of invalidation, which could explain the connection between cognitive constructs and behaviours related to eating disorders.