Cognitive Therapy and Research

, Volume 14, Issue 2, pp 191-214

First online:

The investigation of schematic content and processing in eating disorders

  • Kelly Bemis VitousekAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of Hawaii
  • , Steven D. HollonAffiliated withVanderbilt University

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The core psychopathology of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa is hypothesized to be represented in organized cognitive structures that unite views of the self with beliefs about weight. These weight-related self-schemata may exert automatic effects on the processing of information, and may also help to account for the clinical observation that patients frequently regard their symptoms as serving a valued function. Strategies for assessing the presence and operation of self-schemata in the eating disorders are outlined, and the limitations of inventories designed to measure self-statements about food and weight are emphasized. It is suggested that the “cognitive essence” of these disorders may be found in potent and inclusive schemata that reduce ambiguity, facilitate judgments and predictions, and provide a simple set of premises from which specific rules can be deduced. Several constructs are recommended for further study, including a preference for simplicity, a preference for certainty, and a distinctive “New Year's resolution” cognitive style.

Key words

eating, disorders anorexia nervosa bulimia nervosa schema cognitive assessment