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Tijdschrift voor Psychiatrie 49 (2007) 10, 709 - 718

New research

The significance of perfectionism in eating disorders. A comparative study

B. Soenens, W. Nevelsteen, W. Vandereycken

Various studies have shown a consistent relationship between perfectionism and eating disorders or related symptoms. Perfectionism, however, is not a single, unified concept but it is a multidimensional one.
aim To study the relevance of the difference between maladaptive and adaptive perfectionism in patients with eating disorders and to find out whether perfectionism persists after eating disorder has been treated.
method A sample of patients with eating disorders (n=122) was compared with a normal control group (n=48) by means of questionnaires relating to clinical measures and designed to reveal the difference between adaptive and maladaptive perfectionism. In addition, some of the patients were assessed just after their treatment for an eating disorder had finished.
results The eating-disorder group and the control group differed primarily with regard to maladaptive perfectionism. In the eating-disorder group maladaptive perfectionism only predicted the severity of eating-disorder symptoms. Although the scores for both types of perfectionism decreased during the course of treatment, at the end of the treatment the perfectionism scores of the eating-disorder group remained higher than those of the control group.
conclusions The findings emphasise that in research into eating disorders it is important to distinguish between maladaptive and adaptive perfectionism; in addition, the findings suggest that maladaptive perfectionism can be a risk factor for relapse after the eating disorder has been treated.

keywords eating disorders, perfectionism, therapy