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Persistent body image disturbance following recovery from eating disorders




Individuals with an eating disorder experience the rubber hand illusion (RHI) significantly more strongly than healthy controls on both perceptual (proprioceptive drift) and subjective (self-report embodiment questionnaire) measures. This heightened sensitivity to visual information about the body, and/or reduced somatosensory information processing about the body, suggest an increased malleability of the bodily self. The aim of the present study was to explore whether this is a state phenomenon or a persisting individual trait that outlasts the period of acute eating disorder.


The RHI and self-report measures of eating disorder psychopathology (EDI-3 subscales of Drive for Thinness, Bulimia, Body Dissatisfaction, Interoceptive Deficits, and Emotional Dysregulation; DASS-21; and the Self-Objectification Questionnaire) were administered to 78 individuals with an eating disorder, 28 individuals recovered from an eating disorder, and 61 healthy controls.


Proprioceptive drift in recovered individuals was intermediate between the acutely ill and HC groups. Subjective report of the strength of the illusion in recovered individuals was similar to acutely ill individuals.


These results suggest that increased malleability of the bodily self persists, at least partially, following recovery and may be a trait phenomenon in people with eating disorders. Those with a lifetime history of an eating disorder may have heightened sensitivity to visual information about the body and reduced somatosensory information processing of the body. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. (Int J Eat Disord 2014; 47:400–409)