Psychology of Eating Disorders
Our relationship with food is remarkably complex. On the one hand, food supplies our bodies with nutrition which is a basic need. On the other hand, our connection to food goes considerably deeper, providing comfort during stressful times, and evoking memories of family traditions.
As infants, we learn to associate nourishment with love and security. As we grow older, we are introduced to the use of certain foods to celebrate special occasions, and to demonstrate love and caring for one another. In North America, there is generally more than enough food to go around, and over eating, or the over consumption of unhealthy food may be a problem. Likewise, the emphasis on personal appearance and extreme thinness in our society can cause considerable distress to those individuals who naturally have different body types. Certain people who are susceptible to eating disorders may find themselves engaged in an unrealistic focus on losing weight.
Certain psychological factors can contribute to the development of an eating disorder. These include issues such as poor self-esteem, anxiety, depression, anger, loneliness, and feelings of having no control in one’s life. Additional challenges such as physical or sexual abuse, problems with interpersonal relationships, or difficulty expressing feelings can also exacerbate the symptoms of eating disorders.
Ultimately, eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia involve much more than the food itself. Some people who suffer from eating disorders may use food to compensate for overwhelming emotions. Others control their food intake in order to feel in control or cope with painful feelings. These destructive behavior patterns can become part of an ingrained and self-perpetuating cycle, resulting in considerable risk to the person’s health. Left untreated, eating disorders can be fatal.
Successful treatment of eating disorders involves professional help in order to address the underlying psychological issues that contribute to this illness.