Self-discrepancy as a Predictor of Eating Disorder Symptoms: Findings from Two Ecological Momentary Assessment Studies of Adults with Binge Eating

Tyler B. Mason, Kathryn E. Smith, Ross D. Crosby, Robert Dvorak, Scott G. Engel, Scott Crow, Stephen A. Wonderlich, Carol B. Peterson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Background: Self-discrepancy theory suggests that discrepancies between one’s actual, ideal, and ought self can generate negative affective states and are associated with psychopathology, including eating disorders (EDs). However, research thus far has only examined self-discrepancy as a trait factor and has not investigated how state self-discrepancies may precipitate ED symptoms in everyday life. To study such state-based phenomena, this paper reports on two ecological momentary assessment (EMA) studies, which elucidated momentary relations between self-discrepancy, negative affect, and their interaction as predictors of subsequent ED symptoms. Method: Study 1 included forty women with binge-eating symptoms (Mage = 34.70 ± 15.59 years; range 19–64) who completed 10 days of EMA recordings, and Study 2 included 112 adults seeking treatment for binge-eating disorder (Mage = 39.9 ± 13.20 years; range 18–64) who completed 7 days of EMA recordings. Results: In Study 1, greater within-subjects self-discrepancy predicted more eating-related rumination at the next EMA signal. In Study 2, there was an interaction of within-subjects self-discrepancy and negative affect predicting binge eating. When self-discrepancy was higher than one’s average, there was a stronger association with binge eating if momentary negative affect was also higher than one’s average. Higher between-subjects self-discrepancy was associated with less body satisfaction over the course of EMA in both studies and more binge eating over the course of EMA in Study 2. Conclusions: These results underscore the role of within- and between-subjects self-discrepancy in predicting elevated behavioral and cognitive ED symptoms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)580-589
Number of pages10
JournalCognitive Therapy and Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by Grants R34MH099040 and R34MH098995 from the National Institute of Mental Health.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature.


  • Binge eating
  • Eating disorders
  • Ecological momentary assessment
  • Negative affect
  • Self-discrepancy


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