Mood, food, traits, and restraint: an experimental investigation of negative affect, borderline personality, and disordered eating



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Eating disorders and borderline personality disorder involve several overlapping features, such as impulsivity, negative affectivity, and dissociation. However, few studies have specifically assessed how eating pathology and borderline personality may be related. The present study sought to evaluate this relationship by focusing on one particular area of overlap, negative affectivity. A pilot study assessed the psychometric properties of a dietary restraint measure among undergraduate women (N = 149). In the main study, undergraduate women (N = 307) completed a baseline mood assessment, then viewed a 39-minute sad film either with or without concurrent food presentation.
Participants then completed a second mood assessment, and those who received food completed a third mood assessment following a 10-minute post-reflection delay. Results suggest that women reporting more borderline features exhibited greater negative affect across three different time points (baseline, post-movie/food, and post-reflection period), and were more reactive to the sad film. Food presentation appeared to have a small tempering effect on sadness, such that individuals who received food reported relatively less sadness after viewing the film when compared to those who did not receive food. However, actual quantity of food consumption was associated with improvements in mood only for women reporting higher levels of borderline features. Finally, highscorers on dietary restraint measures consumed greater quantities of food than their lowscoring counterparts. In sum, these data suggest that women with borderline personality features may be at elevated risk for developing problems with binge-eating, as consuming larger quantities of food appeared to have a tempering effect on their negative mood and specific feelings of sadness. Further, results are consistent with earlier findings in that reported efforts to restrain dietary intake were associated with greater food consumption in response to negative affect, and this relationship may need to be addressed in treating individuals with problematic eating behaviors.