Personality Traits of Those That Overcome Anorexia

Woman concerned with her eating disorder and the upcoming holidays

It can be disconcerting to hear that a fundamental part of who you are has played a role in you developing an eating disorder. This is especially difficult when one considers that these personality traits don’t simply disappear upon recovery.

Despite their role in your eating disorder, these traits are not all bad. They make you who you are and can be used positively to help foster your recovery and lead you to a happier and healthier life.

This series will look at those traits that define anorexia nervosa (AN), bulimia nervosa (BN), and binge eating disorder (BED) and delve into how they can be repurposed to bring you closer to recovery.

Let’s begin with three traits commonly seen with anorexia nervosa (AN): harm-avoidance, self-directedness, and impulsivity.


Harm-avoidance is characterized by excessive worrying, pessimism, fear, and self-doubt [1] and is found to be elevated in individuals with anorexia [2].

Recovery will not always be as simple as getting rid of those traits and circumstances that played a part in the disorder.

Researchers have discovered that harm-avoidance does persist after recovery, yet, individuals are still able to recover despite the traits continued presence [2].

The trick is not hoping for this trait to disappear entirely, but learning to cope with it.

You may be able to overcome feelings of fear, worry, or self-doubt, but, there will still be times when those voices try to creep up on you.

Those who recover from anorexia learn how to persist whether these voices are present or not.

You may work on fighting feelings of self-doubt with positive self-affirmations or learning what coping skills help you to deal with worry in a healthy manner.

The key is to face those fears and worries that lead to harm-avoidance and to deal with them in a positive way.


Individuals with anorexia are found to have decreased self-directedness, which is the ability to regulate and adapt behaviors to current circumstances or a chosen goal.

Woman struggling with anorexiaPeople that lack self-directedness more often engage in self-destruction, engaging in the most simplistic answer that will help them to escape their problems [3].

For example, those with anorexia may find that their body size is their problem and quickly decide that the best solution is to simply not eat.

Increasing self-directedness involves moving toward the problem to honestly examine its roots and proactively and planfully finding a solution [3].

The good news is that one can learn and strengthen self-directedness to help toward recovery.

Resist the urge to run away from your worries and fears with unhealthy, disordered, coping skills. Instead, face them and consider a solution that will bring you long-term joy and health.


Impulsivity is low in individuals with anorexia who often must adhere to rigid food and lifestyle rules.

One study found that increasing impulsivity in these individuals can be a positive prognostic factor to predict recovery. Increasing impulsive behaviors “tempers the rigidity and intractability often associated with AN and could encourage experimenting with healthier eating behaviors [4].”

Essentially, increasing impulsivity breaks down some of the barriers that anorexic individuals cling to so tightly in order to maintain control.

Those that overcome anorexia learn to be at peace with not having control and learn to no longer adhere to rigid rules or expectations that do not serve them.

While these traits are applicable to bulimia and binge eating disorder, there are traits specific to those disorders that can be bolstered and strengthened to overcome them specifically.

Continue reading this series to learn about the subtype-specific traits that individuals can use positively toward eating disorder recovery.

Image of Margot Rittenhouse.About the Author: Margot Rittenhouse is a therapist who is passionate about providing mental health support to all in need and has worked with clients with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, domestic violence victims and offenders, and severely mentally ill youth.

As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.


[1] Chen, C. et al. (2015). The role of harm avoidance personality in depression and anxiety during the medical internship. Medicine, 94:2.
[2] Wagner, A. (2006). Personality traits after recovery from eating disorders: do subtypes differ? The International Journal of Eating Disorders, 39:4, 276-284.
[3] Taibbi, R. (2012). Self direction or self destruction? Psychology Today. Retrieved on 18 January 2018 from
[4] Zerwas, S. et al. (2013). Factors associated with recovery from anorexia nervosa. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 47, 972-979.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on March 19, 2018.

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