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Objective: The study explored the semantic content and origins of negative self-beliefs, and their functional links to "not eating enough" and other behaviors, in participants with anorexia nervosa (AN). Method: Fifteen women meeting DSM-IV criteria for AN were compared with 17 dieting and 18 non-dieting women matched on age and number of years of education. The main outcome measure was a semi-structured interview. Results: Six themes were identified in the beliefs of participants with AN. These were, in order of decreasing frequency, powerlessness (present in all but three AN participants), failure, defectiveness, unattractiveness, worthlessness and emptiness. Importantly, powerlessness and failure beliefs were consistently present independent of Beck Depression Inventory-II scores. The negative early life experiences associated with these beliefs had high distress and responsibility ratings. Participants with AN reported that they employed specific behaviors, particularly 'not eating enough,' and 'placating others,' to try to reduce the cognitive and emotional impact of their negative self-beliefs. Discussion: The findings are discussed in relation to the role of powerlessness and the function of "not eating enough" in cognitive theory and therapy for AN. © 2006 Springer Science+Business Media, Inc.

Original publication




Journal article


Cognitive Therapy and Research

Publication Date





735 - 748