Child sexual abuse and disordered eating: The mediating role of impulsive and compulsive tendencies

Emily Dworkin, Shabnam Javdani, Edelyn Verona, Rebecca Campbell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: Child sexual abuse (CSA) victimization has been identified as one of many environmental risk factors for the later development of disordered eating, and empirical evidence suggests that the relationship between CSA victimization and disordered eating may be explained by a number of mediators. Indeed, it appears that CSA victimization may promote dysregulated behavioral control (i.e., impulsivity and compulsivity) as coping strategies for some survivors, which may in turn promote disordered eating behaviors, but no research to date has examined this relationship empirically in a single model. Thus, the current study examined impulsivity and compulsivity as mediators of the relationship between CSA victimization and distinct disordered eating behaviors. Method: Using structural equation modeling, this mediated relationship was explored in regards to the severity of self-reported CSA victimization and two main domains of disordered eating behaviors (i.e., binge eating, compensatory behaviors) in a large undergraduate nonclinical sample of men and women (N = 649). Results: Impulsivity and compulsivity together accounted for the effect of CSA victimization on binge eating (i.e., eating to excess) and compensatory behaviors (i.e., maladaptive behaviors meant to control weight; e.g., purging, laxative use). Further, compulsivity was a stronger mediator than impulsivity of relationships of CSA victimization with binge eating and compensatory behaviors. Conclusions: The findings suggest that the sequelae of CSA victimization may involve different forms of behavioral control strategies, which may in turn manifest differentially in symptoms of disordered eating. More emphasis should be paid to the role of compulsive tendencies and pathways from sexual abuse to compulsivity when developing theories and treatments for eating pathology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)21-36
Number of pages16
JournalPsychology of Violence
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2014


  • Sexual abuse
  • compulsivity
  • disordered eating
  • impulsivity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Health(social science)
  • Applied Psychology


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