The impact of an emotionally expressive writing intervention on eating pathology in female students
Campbell, Iain C.
Introduction: Previous research demonstrating emotional influences on eating and weight suggest that emotionally expressive writing may have a significant impact on reducing risk of eating pathology. This study examined the effects of writing about Intensely Positive Experiences on weight and disordered eating during a naturalistic stressor. Method: Seventy-one female students completed an expressive or a control writing task before a period of exams. Both groups were compared on BMI (kg/m2) and the Eating Disorder Examination – Questionnaire (EDE-Q) before the writing task and at 8-week follow-up. A number of secondary analyses were also examined (to identify potential mediators) including measures of attachment, social rank, self-criticism and self-reassurance, stress and mood. Results: There was a significant effect of intervention on changes in the subscales of the EDE-Q (p = .03). Specifically, expressive writers significantly reduced their dietary restraint while those in the control group did not. There was no significant effect of the intervention on changes in BMI or the other subscales of the EDE-Q (Eating, Weight and Shape Concern). There was also no effect of writing on any of the potential mediators in the secondary analyses. Discussion: Emotionally expressive writing may reduce the risk of dietary restraint in women but these findings should be accepted with caution. It is a simple and light touch intervention that has the potential to be widely applied. However, it remains for future research to replicate these results and to identify the mechanisms of action.