033 Fighting Anorexia – Understanding your Eating Disorder

by Anne-Sophie

in Podcast

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In this episode of Fighting Anorexia, I talk about possible reasons for developing an eating disorder. Though the exact cause is unknown, it is believed to be due to a combination of biological, psychological and/or environmental abnormalities. There are biological and psychological factors that play a role in the early stages of developing an eating disorder.

Biological

Genetic: Numerous studies have been undertaken that show a possible genetic predisposition toward eating disorders as a result of Mendelian inheritance.

Psychological

Personality traits

There are various childhood personality traits associated with the development of eating disorders.[86] 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. Many personality traits have a genetic component and are highly heritable. Maladaptive levels of certain traits may be acquired as a result of anoxic or traumatic brain injury, neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s diseaseneurotoxicity such as lead exposure, bacterial infection such as Lyme disease or viral infection such as Toxoplasma gondii as well as hormonal influences. While studies are still continuing via the use of various imaging techniques such as fMRI; these traits have been shown to originate in various regions of the brain[87] such as the amygdala[88][89] and the prefrontal cortex[90] Disorders in the prefrontal cortex and the executive functioning system have been shown to affect eating behavior.[91][92]

Environmental

Child maltreatment

Child abuse which encompasses physical, psychological and sexual abuse, as well as neglect has been shown by innumerable studies to be a precipitating factor in a wide variety of psychiatric disorders, including eating disorders. Children who are subjected to abuse may develop a disordered eating in an effort to gain some sense of control or for a sense of comfort. Or they may be in an environment where the diet is unhealthy or insufficient. 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. In a study done in New Zealand 25% of the study subjects in foster care exhibited an eating disorder (Tarren-Sweeney M. 2006). An unstable home environment is detrimental to the emotional well-being of children, even in the absence of blatant abuse or neglect the stress of an unstable home can contribute to the development of an eating disorder.[93][94][95][96][97][98][99][100][101]

Social isolation

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. This effect on mortality is markedly increased in those with pre-existing medical or psychiatric conditions, and has been especially noted in cases of coronary heart disease. “The magnitude of risk associated with social isolation is comparable with that of cigarette smoking and other major biomedical andpsychosocial risk factors.” (Brummett et al.)

Social isolation can be inherently stressful, depressing and anxiety provoking. In an attempt to ameliorate these distressful feelings an individual may engage in emotional eating in which food serves as a source of comfort. The loneliness of social isolation and the inherent stressors thus associated have been implicated as triggering factors in binge eating as well.[102][103][104][105]

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. It has been shown that maladaptive parental behavior has an important role in the development of eating disorders. As to the more subtle aspects of parental influence it has been shown that eating patterns are established in early childhood and that children should be allowed to decide when their appetite is satisfied as early as the age of two. A direct link has been shown between obesity and parental pressure to eat more.

Coercive tactics in regard to diet have not been proven to be efficacious in controlling a child’s eating behavior. Affection and attention have been shown to affect the degree of a childs’ finickiness and their acceptance of a more varied diet.[106][107][108][109][110][111]

Peer pressure

In various studies such as one conducted by The McKnight Investigatorspeer pressure was shown to be a significant contributor to body image concerns and attitudes toward eating among subjects in their teens and early twenties.

Eleanor Mackey and co-author, Annette M. La Greca of the University of Miami, studied 236 teen girls from public high schools in southeast Florida. “Teen girls’ concerns about their own weight, about how they appear to others and their perceptions that their peers want them to be thin are significantly related to weight-control behavior,” says psychologist Eleanor Mackey of the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington and lead author of the study. “Those are really important.”

According to one study, 40% of 9- and 10-year-old girls are already trying to lose weight.[112] Such dieting is reported to being influenced by peer behavior, with many of those individuals on a diet reporting that their friends also were dieting. The number of friends dieting and the number of friends who pressured them to diet also played a significant role in their own choices.[113][114][115][116]

Cultural pressure

There is a cultural emphasis on thinness which is especially pervasive in western society. There is an unrealistic stereotype of what constitutes beauty and the ideal body type as portrayed by the media, fashion and entertainment industries. “The cultural pressure on men and women to be “[perfect]” is an important predisposing factor for the development of eating disorders” (Prof. Bryan Lask).[117][118] Eating disorders are becoming more prevalent in non Western countries where thinness is not seen as the ideal, showing that social and cultural pressures are not the only causes of eating disorders. [119]

If you would like to leave me some feedback, you can mail it to feedback@fightinganorexia.com

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Vivian April 12, 2012 at 9:50 pm

Hey there! This post couldn’t be written any better! Reading this post reminds me of my previous room mate! He always kept chatting about this. I will forward this article to him. Fairly certain he will have a good read. Thank you for sharing!
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Anne-Sophie April 14, 2012 at 5:09 pm

Hi Vivian,

thank you SO much for commenting. I am glad you liked the post. I really hope that your former room mate will find this valuable too. Big hugs, Anne-Sophie
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Susan Bewley May 14, 2012 at 6:15 pm

Great write up! This is a very good way of showing others that we aren’t alone. I know my eating disorder was eventually diagnosed later as environmental, due to abuse as a child and seeing my mother go through the same. She also never wanted to admit it, but she had an eating disorder though most of my childhood. At 5’2, she tried hard to stay under 95 pounds. It’s hard growing up in a house where the ideal’ image of beauty is anorexia. While I loved my mother dearly, I had to eventually leave because of the toxic relationship and it was what it took to finally get her to see her problems as well.
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Anne-Sophie May 15, 2012 at 3:39 am

Susan,

No, we definitely are not alone, which can sometimes crush your spirits. I hate to hear what you’ve gone through and what so many others are going through. Yes, having a role model that is anorexic is definitely not a healthy way to grow up.
In my family food and dieting was always (and still is) a HUGE issue and just like you had to leave, I stopped having constant contact with my parents. I too love them, but it was just too destructive to be around them all the time. Only when I moved to a different country and got married was I ready to heal.

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Anonymous June 18, 2012 at 4:51 am

Hi Anne!
I just wanted to let you know that just because your iTunes downloads aren’t what you would like them to be doesn’t mean that you don’t have tons of listerns! Like for me, I’m younger and if my parents saw that I was downloading a podcast on the subject of eating disorders it would spring up what I fear to be awkward conversations. But I still listen all the time on sticher and on here. Please keep doing your podcasts! Mondays are a treat for me because of them! I absolutely love you! Thanks :)

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Anne-Sophie June 20, 2012 at 1:15 pm

Hey there,

awe, thank you SO SO much for your kind words, you really made my day! I absolutely value each and every single one of you, but when you don’t hear anything, you can get a bit discouraged. Thanks for reaching out to me! You have no idea how much that means to me.

Big hugs and much love!

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