The Psychology of Anorexia: Understanding The Mindset

Why would anyone deliberately starve themselves? This is something many people wonder when they think about anorexia. It's a question that people struggle with when watching their loved ones wasting away.

Anorexia is an odd condition because people suffering from it often don't want to get well. They don't want to be sick, of course; they don't want to feel lousy, damage their bodies, or die—but many struggle with a fear of getting better.

There are a host of different factors that may contribute to anorexia, from genetic to brain chemistry to social pressures. When it comes to psychology, though, many people with anorexia struggle to find the motivation to get well, because the motivation to keep things as they are seems stronger.

Control

Life is unpredictable, and uncertainty can cause tremendous stress. Feeling helpless can be debilitating. Anorexia gives some people a feeling of control. This kind of power is addictive. The more researchers study people with the disorder, the more they are concluding that it's not about appearances as much as it is about control.

Distraction

One way to get relief from your fears and problems is to not think about them. By focusing intently on their eating habits and weight, they don’t have to think about other things. This obsessive-compulsive behavior becomes a defense mechanism.

Many studies have shown an overlap between eating disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder. According to the American Journal of Psychiatry, more than 40 percent of people with eating disorders were also diagnosed with OCD.

Perfectionism

For some people, anorexia is driven by a desire to be perfect. It's not a drive to be perfect-looking—or at least, it doesn't end up that way. Most people with anorexia go far beyond looking perfect and quickly begin to look ghastly. They are more inclined to try and hide their ravaged bodies.

No, this kind of perfection lies in the perfect execution of a plan—and what makes it even better is that it's something most other people can't do, so there’s a minor ego boost bonus.

Emotional Release

Anorexia may have more in common with self-harm than most people realize. When people have trouble coping with problems, being close to death has a way of making one feel alive. The pain you suffer is cathartic; it helps you relieve just enough pressure to help you hang on.

The myth that anorexia is all about vanity is harmful. The root of the problem is not about vanity, it's about people having trouble coping with life. Once we understand that, it's easier to relate to those who suffer from the disorder.

Sources: Psychology Today, Scientific American

Photo: Pexels

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