Social safeness and disordered eating: Exploring underlying mechanisms of body appreciation and inflexible eating

  • Catarina Pinto
  • Cláudia Ferreira
  • Ana Laura MendesEmail author
  • Inês A. Trindade
Original Article


Feelings of social safeness and connectedness have been associated with adaptive emotion regulation processes and well-being indicators. Further, literature has demonstrated that interpersonal experiences play an important role in the etiology and maintenance of body and eating psychopathology. However, the study of the role of social variables and emotion regulation processes in the engagement in inflexible eating rules and eating psychopathology is still in its early stages. The current study aims to fill some gaps within the literature and explore the mediator role of body appreciation and inflexible eating rules in the link between social safeness and disordered eating. Participants were 253 women, aged between 18 and 50 years old, who completed a series of online self-report measures. Results from the tested path analysis model showed that social safeness holds a significant effect on eating psychopathology, through the mechanisms of body appreciation and inflexible eating rules. Also, results suggested that women who present higher levels of social safeness tend to present a more positive and respectful attitude towards their body and decreased adoption of inflexible eating rules, which seem to explain lower levels of disordered eating behaviours. These findings seem to present empirical support for the development of intervention programs that promote a positive, affectionate and healthy relationship with one’s body image, in order to prevent the inflexible adherence to eating rules and disordered eating behaviours.


Social safeness Body appreciation Inflexible eating rules Disordered eating 


Compliance with ethical standards

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Conflict of interest

The authors of this manuscript declare no conflict of interest.


  1. 1.
    Gilbert P (2010) Compassion focused therapy: distinctive features. Routledge, LondonGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Gilbert P, McEwan K, Mitra R, Richter A, Franks L, Mills A, Bellew R, Gale C (2009) An exploration of different types of positive affect in students and in patients with bipolar disorders. Clin Neuropsychiatry 6(4):135–143Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Richter A, Gilbert P, McEwan K (2009) Development of an early memories of warmth and safeness scale and its relationship to psychopathology. Psychol Psychother 82:171–184. doi: 10.1348/147608308X395213 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Gilbert P (2005) Compassion and cruelty: a biopsychosocial approach. In: Gilbert P (ed) Compassion: conceptualisation, research and use in psychotherapy. Routledge, London, pp 9–74Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Gilbert P, McEwan K, Mitra R, Franks L, Richter A, Rockliff H (2008) Feeling safe and content: A specific affect regulation system? Relationship to depression, anxiety, stress, and self-criticism. J Posit Psychol 3(3):182–191. doi: 10.1080/17439760801999461 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Kelly A, Zuroff D, Leybman M, Gilbert P (2012) Social safeness, received social support, and maladjustment: testing a tripartite model of affect regulation. Cognit Ther Res 36(6):815–826. doi: 10.1007/s10608-011-9432-5 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Goss K, Gilbert P (2002) Eating disorders, shame and pride: a cognitive-behavioural functional analysis. In: Gilbert P, Miles J (eds) Body shame: Conceptualization, research and treatment. Brunner-Routledge, Hove, pp 219–255Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Pinto-Gouveia J, Ferreira C, Duarte C (2014) Thinness in the pursuit for social safeness: an integrative model of social rank mentality to explain eating psychopathology. Clin Psychol Psychother 21(2):154–165. doi: 10.1002/cpp.1820 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Bellew R, Gilbert P, Mills A, McEwan K, Gale C (2006) Eating attitudes and striving to avoid inferiority. Eat Disord 14(4):313–322. doi: 10.1080/10640260600796242 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Ferreira C, Pinto-Gouveia J, Duarte C (2013) Physical appearance as a measure of social ranking: the role of a new scale to understand the relationship between weight and dieting. Clin Psychol Psychother 20(1):55–66. doi: 10.1002/cpp.769 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Duarte C, Ferreira C, Pinto-Gouveia J (2016) At the core of eating disorders: overvaluation, social rank, self-criticism and shame in anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder. Compr Psychiatry 66:123–131. doi: 10.1016/j.comppsych.2016.01.003 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Baumeister R, Leary M (1995) The need to belong: desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychol Bull 117(3):497–529. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.117.3.497 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Choenarom C, Williams R, Hagerty B (2005) The role of sense of belonging and social support on stress and depression in individuals with depression. Arch Psychiatr Nurs 19(1):18–29. doi: 10.1016/j.apnu.2004.11.003 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Gilbert P (2007) The evolution of shame as a marker for relationship security: a biopsychosocial approach. In: Tracy J, Robin R, Tangney J (eds) The self-conscious emotions: theory and research. Guilford, New York, pp 283–309Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Allan S, Gilbert P (1995) A social comparison rating scale: psychometric properties and relationship to psychopathology. Personal Individ Differ 19:293–299. doi: 10.1016/0191-8869(95)00086-L CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Gatward N (2007) Anorexia nervosa: an evolutionary puzzle. Eur Eat Disord Rev 15:1–12. doi: 10.1002/erv.718 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Garner M, Garfinkel P, Schwartz D, Thompson M (1980) Cultural expectations of thinness in women. Psychol Rep 47(2):483–491. doi: 10.2466/pr0.1980.47.2.483 CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Sypeck M, Gray J, Etu S, Ahrens A, Mosimann J, Wiseman C (2006) Cultural representations of thinness in women, redux: playboy magazine’s depictions of beauty from 1979 to 1999. Body Image 3:229–235. doi: 10.1016/j.bodyim.2006.07.001 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Buote V, Wilson A, Strahan E, Gazzola S, Papps F (2011) Setting the bar: sociocultural norms for women’s and men’s ideal appearance in real-world contexts. Body Image 8(4):322–334. doi: 10.1016/j.bodyim.2011.06.002 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Brown A, Parman K, Rudat D, Craighead L (2012) Disordered eating, perfectionism, and food rules. Eat Behav 13(3):47–353. doi: 10.1016/j.eatbeh.2012.05.011 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Goss K, Allan S (2009) Shame, pride and eating disorders. Clin Psychol Psychother 16(4):303–316. doi: 10.1002/cpp.627 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Holmes M, Fuller-Tyszkiewicz M, Skouteris H, Broadbent J (2015) Understanding the link between body image and binge eating: a model comparison approach. Eat Weight Disord 20(1):81–89. doi: 10.1007/s40519-014-0141-4 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Ferreira C, Trindade IA, Martinho A (2016) Explaining rigid dieting in normal-weight women: the key role of body image inflexibility. Eat Weight Disord 21(1):49–51. doi: 10.1007/s40519-015-0188-x CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Duarte C, Ferreira C, Trindade A, Pinto-Gouveia J (2015) Normative body dissatisfaction and eating psychopathology in teenage girls: the impact of inflexible eating rules. Eat Weight Disord 21(1):41–48. doi: 10.1007/s40519-015-0212-1 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Mann T, Ward A (2001) Forbidden fruit: does thinking about a prohibited food lead to its consumption? Int J Eat Disord 29(3):319–327. doi: 10.1002/eat.1025 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. 26.
    Stice E, Marti C, Durant S (2011) Risk factors for onset of eating disorders: evidence of multiple risk pathways from an 8-year prospective study. Behav Res Ther 49(10):622–627. doi: 10.1016/j.brat.2011.06.009 CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Kelly AC, Vimalakanthan K, Carter JC (2014) Understanding the roles of self-esteem, self-compassion, and fear of self-compassion in eating disorder pathology: an examination of female students and eating disorder patients. Eat Behav 15(3):388–391. doi: 10.1016/j.eatbeh.2014.04.008 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    Taylor M, Daiss S, Krietsch K (2015) Associations among self-compassion, mindful eating, eating disorder symptomatology, and body mass index in college students. Transl Issues Psychol Sci 1(3):229–238. doi: 10.1037/tps0000035 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Homan KJ, Tylka TL (2015) Self-compassion moderates body comparison and appearance self-worth’s inverse relationships with body appreciation. Body Image 15:1–7. doi: 10.1016/j.bodyim.2015.04.007 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. 30.
    Avalos L, Tylka TL, Wood-Barcalow N (2005) The Body Appreciation Scale: development and psychometric evaluation. Body Image 2(3):285–297. doi: 10.1016/j.bodyim.2005.06.002 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    Tylka T, Wood-Barcalow N (2015) The Body Appreciation Scale-2: item refinement and psychometric evaluation. Body Image 12:53–67. doi: 10.1016/j.bodyim.2014.09.006 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. 32.
    Wood-Barcalow N, Tylka T, Augustus-Horvath C (2010) But I like my body: positive body image characteristics and a holistic model for young adult women. Body Image 7:106–116. doi: 10.1016/j.bodyim.2010.01.001 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. 33.
    Poínhos R, Franchini B, Afonso C, Correia F, Teixeira VH, Moreira P, Durão C, Pinho O, Silva D, Lima Reis JP, Veríssimo T, de Almeida MDV (2009) Alimentação e estilos de vida da população Portuguesa: metodologia e resultados preliminares [Alimentation and life styles of the Portuguese population: methodology and preliminary results]. Alimentação Humana 15(3):43–60Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Marta-Simões J, Mendes L, Trindade I, Ferreira C.(2016) Validation of the Body Appreciation Scale-2 for Portuguese women. Poster presented at the 3rd IPLeiria’s International Health Congress, LeiriaGoogle Scholar
  35. 35.
    Duarte C, Ferreira C, Trindade I, Pinto-Gouveia J. (2015) The backlash of inflexible eating rules: development and validation of a new measure of eating-related inflexibility. Poster session presented at the meeting of the 45th EABCT Congress, Jerusalem, IsraelGoogle Scholar
  36. 36.
    Fairburn C, Beglin S (1994) Assessment of eating disorders: interview or self-report questionnaire?. Int J Eat Disord 16:363–370. doi:10.1002/1098-108X(199412)16:4<363::AID-EAT2260160405>3.0.CO;2-#Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    Machado P, Martins C, Vaz A, Conceição E, Bastos A, Gonçalves S (2014) Eating disorder examination questionnaire: psychometric properties and norms for the Portuguese population. Eur Eat Disord Rev 22(6):448–453. doi: 10.1002/erv.2318 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. 38.
    Cooper Z, Cooper P, Fairburn C (1989) The validity of the eating disorder examination and its subscales. Br J Psychiatry 154(6):807–812. doi: 10.1192/bjp.154.6.807 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. 39.
    Cohen J, Cohen P, West S, Aiken L (2003) Applied multiple regression/correlation analysis for the behavioral sciences. 3rd edn. Erlbaum, HillsdaleGoogle Scholar
  40. 40.
    Arbuckle J (2006) Amos (Version 7.0) [Computer program]. SPSS, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  41. 41.
    Hair JF, Anderson RE, Tatham RL, Black WC (1998) Multivariate data analysis, 5th edn. Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle RiverGoogle Scholar
  42. 42.
    Hooper D, Coughlan J, Mullen M (2008) Structural equation modelling: guidelines for determining model fit. Electron J Bus Res Methods 6(1):53–60Google Scholar
  43. 43.
    Kline RB (2005) Principles and practice of structural equation modeling, 2nd edn. The Guilford Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  44. 44.
    Field A (2004) Discovering statistics using SPSS, 3rd edn. Sage Publications, LondonGoogle Scholar
  45. 45.
    Striegel-Moore RH, Rosselli F, Perrin N, DeBar L, Wilson GT, May A, Kraemer HC (2009) Gender difference in the prevalence of eating disorder symptoms. Int J Eat Disord 42(5):471–474. doi: 10.1002/eat.20625 CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Catarina Pinto
    • 1
  • Cláudia Ferreira
    • 1
  • Ana Laura Mendes
    • 1
    Email author
  • Inês A. Trindade
    • 1
  1. 1.CINEICC, Faculdade de Psicologia e Ciências da EducaçãoUniversidade de CoimbraCoimbraPortugal

Personalised recommendations