40 years of faulty wiring

The Mental Illnesses Known as Anorexia and Bulimia Nervosa

Anorexia and bulimia nervosa, long a phenomenon in human history are illnesses of the mind not the body. The body’s emaciation and malnourishment are symptomatic of a deeper disturbance within the sufferer. Although believed to be the result of exaggerated vanity and the desire to fulfill a media ideal, the disorders have many underlying causes far more disturbing than these.


Anorexic and bulimic behaviours were recorded as far back as the first century. Ancient Greeks used to openly practice bulimia when attending lavish feasts. Wanting to binge on as much of the expensive food as possible, people ate to fullness then entered a common room to purge themselves and return to the feast. Mary, Queen of Scots’s physician recorded that she displayed physical symptoms and nervous behaviours very similar to that of anorexia. It was believed that medieval era women succumbed to purging or self-starvation as a result of divine inspiration.

In contemporary society significant research has been conducted on the subject of eating disorders. Perhaps eating disorder is an inaccurate term since anorexia, bulimia, binge eating and binge eating disorder are not merely about eating. Rather, severely low self-esteem and self harm are frequently the foundation for this type of behaviour.

Sexual Abuse and Eating Disorders
Many young women who are either anorexic or bulimic or both have been sexually abused during childhood. Being extremely thin is equated with becoming invisible to others, thus no one is perceived as a threat. For many women the disorders signify control over their bodies and the only control they have over their lives for various reasons. Similarly with bulimia and binge eating women who become obese do so in order to deflect male sexual attention. These women are also frequently sex abuse victims and becoming “unattractive” is a type of armour to staving off male advances.

Women also fall into abusive eating patterns due to genetics. Eating disorders tend to run in families due to both example from a parent or older sibling and brain chemistry. This discovery begs the question of nature vs nurture, however Epigenetics is a useful tool in studying the correlation between brain chemistry and eating disorders.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter responsible for clinical depression. It has also been identified as a cause of eating disorders as it has an inhibitory effect on eating behaviour. Brain lesions and tumours also may cause eating disorders to develop in men and women.

Organic Disease
Maladaptive levels of certain traits may be acquired as a result of anoxic or traumatic brain injury, neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, neurotoxicity such as lead exposure, bacterial infection such as Lyme disease or viral infection such as Toxoplasma gondii as well as hormonal influences.

A comorbidity with other neurological abnormality often occurs with eating disorders. Girls with ADHD are much more likely to develop anorexia than girls without ADHD.

Social isolation
And young women in foster homes are frequently bulimic, likely due to a sense of not belonging or feeling wanted.Child abuse and neglect can cause profound changes in both the physiological structure and the neurochemistry of the developing brain. Children who, as wards of the state, were placed in orphanages or foster homes are especially susceptible to developing a disordered eating pattern.

Social isolation has been shown to have a deleterious effect on an individuals’ physical and emotional well-being. Those that are socially isolated have a higher mortality rate in general as compared to individuals that have established social relationships.

Parental influence
Parental influence has been shown to be an intrinsic component in developing the eating behaviors of children. This influence is manifested and shaped by a variety of diverse factors such as familial genetic predisposition, dietary choices as dictated by cultural or ethnic preferences, the parents’ own body shape and eating patterns, the degree of involvement and expectations of their children’s eating behavior as well as the interpersonal relationship of parent and child. This is in addition to the general psychosocial climate of the home and the presence or absence of a nurturing stable environment.

Obstetric complications
Obstetric complications  are also known to be a significant cause of eating disorders.  There have been studies done which show maternal smoking, obstetric and perinatal complications such as maternal anemia, very pre-term birth, and being born small for gestational age increase the risk for developing either anorexia or bulimia nervosa.

Cultural Norms
In poverty-ridden countries and within cultures that place emphasis on wealth than female eroticism, an obese woman is highly desirable since her weight and size suggests she is among the socially elite: she can afford “nourishment”, thus she is wealthy or at least socially privileged. The irony of this perspective is that many women in African countries in particular ingest harmful foods such as cattle feed in order to achieve morbid obesity as rapidly as possible, thereby achieving a husband with relative ease.

Personality Disorders
PD’s are often comorbid with eating disorders. The DSM-IV-TR defines a personality disorder as “an enduring pattern of inner experience and behavior that deviates markedly from the expectations of the culture of the individual who exhibits it“. The problematic part of this definition is expectations of the culture. If we examine expectations for the female form and female attractiveness thinness is indeed one of our social norms, at least in the western world.

The correlation between personality disorders and eating disorders hinges on the type of personality disorder the anorexic or bulimic woman suffers. The causality between personality disorders and eating disorders is not fully established since they likely vary among different personality traits: obsessive-compulsive women for example reveal high rates of eating disorders in particular probably since their preoccupation with body type becomes well beyond their control to the point of dominating much of their daily thoughts and behaviours.

Women suffering from anxiety disorders may obsess over food as a conscious means of avoiding distressing thoughts and responding to stressful behaviours. Accordingly, it is equally feasible that women with anxiety disorders develop eating disorders for the opposite reason, that is an unconscious reaction to PTSD caused by earlier factors in their lives and correlated with anxiety disorder.

Personality Traits
There are various childhood personality traits associated with the development of eating disorders During adolescence these traits may become intensified due to a variety of physiological and cultural influences such as the hormonal changes associated with puberty, stress related to the approaching demands of maturity and socio-cultural influences and perceived expectations, especially in areas that concern body image.

Watch Powerpoint Presentation The Underlying Causes of Eating Disorders
Watch Video Eating Disorders Part I
Watch Stupid Wannorexics
Watch Eating Disorders
Watch Video Model Misbehaviour












October 31, 2010 - Posted by | Human psychology | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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