The Core Symptoms of Bulimia Nervosa, Anxiety, and Depression: A Network Analysis

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Abstract

Bulimia nervosa (BN) is characterized by symptoms of binge eating and compensatory behavior, and overevaluation of weight and shape, which often co-occur with symptoms of anxiety and depression. However, there is little research identifying which specific BN symptoms maintain BN psychopathology and how they are associated with symptoms of depression and anxiety. Network analyses represent an emerging method in psychopathology research to examine how symptoms interact and may become self-reinforcing. In the current study of adults with a Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders-Fourth Edition (DSM–IV) diagnosis of BN (N = 196), we used network analysis to identify the central symptoms of BN, as well as symptoms that may bridge the association between BN symptoms and anxiety and depression symptoms. Results showed that fear of weight gain was central to BN psychopathology, whereas binge eating, purging, and restriction were less central in the symptom network. Symptoms related to sensitivity to physical sensations (e.g., changes in appetite, feeling dizzy, and wobbly) were identified as bridge symptoms between BN, and anxiety and depressive symptoms. We discuss our findings with respect to cognitive–behavioral treatment approaches for BN. These findings suggest that treatments for BN should focus on fear of weight gain, perhaps through exposure therapies. Further, interventions focusing on exposure to physical sensations may also address BN psychopathology, as well as co-occurring anxiety and depressive symptoms.

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