# Dietary restriction and sorority dynamics

### Problem

Clinical eating disorders are characterized by extreme emotional, attitudinal, and behavioral responses in regards to shape and weight. While studying longitudinal data of eating disorder development and prognosis, a group of social psychologists notice that up to 60% of college-age women report experiencing sub-clinical eating disorder symptoms like extreme dieting behaviors, intense fear of being or becoming fat, and consuming excessive “weight-loss” products (like stimulants, diuretics, or laxatives). The researchers note that these behaviors are specifically problematic in groups of women (like sororities, athletic teams, and academic clubs). They decide to conduct a series of studies in which college-age sorority women respond individually to a set of questionnaires and also participate in focus groups with their peers. Notes from three of the primary focus groups (which were focused on discussing a disturbing trend in one sorority's dietary restriction) are summarized in Table 1.
Table 1
GroupSummarized notes
AEvery member reports engaging in ritualistic fasts; entire group refrains from eating any solid foods and drinks only a lemon and honey mixture for 7 days at a time.
BFasting is a normative sorority activity for this group; majority of the members had expressed a desire to lose weight by going on a group diet before an upcoming event. A small group of the women were not in favor, and the result was an intense argument between the members. The majority of the women stated that they were in favor of adopting a sorority-wide diet, citing the need for slim figures and a lack of body fat. They harshly criticized the sisters who did not agree, and accused them of being unconcerned with their health and the future of the sorority. During the discussion, members began discussing weight loss options, which quickly became more extreme. Instead of eating more vegetables and drinking more water, the group decided (with the approval of the sorority president) to adopt the lemon and honey fast.
CFasting is not always described as positive; sorority sisters recall one disturbing incident in which a member, who was on the lemon and honey fast, fainted at a large party. Though she was seriously ill and surrounded by peers, no one came to her aid. Peers believed someone else would help her.
As a follow-up study, the researchers interviewed each member of the sorority and asked her opinions regarding her relationships with her sisters and their dynamic when together. When analyzing the data, they found that nearly all of the members expressed a loss of self-awareness when with their sisters and a large degree of impulsivity when in a group together. What best describes this phenomenon?