If you or someone you know is at risk of an eating disorder, it is always recommended that you talk with a trained clinician.
There are often many interpersonal dynamics that can lead to confusion and denial between the woman and her family and friends. Here is some information about identifying symptoms of anorexia, bulimia, and compulsive overeating.
What Causes Eating Disorders?
Our eating disorder treatment center is designed to give the woman an individualized eating disorder treatment program once she arrives here in California and undergoes an assessment by our eating disorder clinical staff.
We have found that every woman is different and her unique personality and the eating disorder that has developed in her life is the culmination of all of the things she has experienced, including her family history, community, culture, value system, and religious beliefs. There is no point dwelling on the blame of an eating disorder, but it is important to learn about the underlying causes and to gain the tools necessary to live a happy life free of the anorexia, bulimia, or compulsive overeating.
So our goal is to identify for each individual woman what role the eating disorder plays in her life and how we can give her the tools t overcome it. Still, there has been a lot of research done to identify contributing factors that often play a prominent role in the development of an eating disorder.
Genetic and Biological Indicators
According to recent research, genetic factors can contribute to the risk of developing anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or compulsive overeating. Temperament seems to be partly genetically determined, and some personality types (obsessive-compulsive and sensitive-avoidant, for example) are more vulnerable to eating disorders than others. New research suggests that genetic factors predispose some women to anxiety, perfectionism, and obsessive-compulsive thoughts and behaviors. Women who exhibit these traits tend to be at a higher risk for developing eating disorders. Women with a mother or sister who has had anorexia nervosa are 12 times more likely than others to develop it themselves. They are four times more likely to develop bulimia. Also, once a person begins to starve themselves, binge eat, or purge, those behaviors in and of themselves can alter brain chemistry and exacerbate the eating disorder.
Psychological Symptoms of Eating Disorders
Women with eating disorders are often characterized as being “perfectionists.” They have unrealistic expectations of themselves (and others). Even if they are loved and have accomplished many achievements, they still feel inadequate and defective. Some women with eating disorders use the eating disorder behaviors to avoid sexuality. Other women use them to try to take control of themselves and their lives. They want to be correct, in control and in charge. They are strong and usually win the power struggles they find themselves in, but inside they feel weak, powerless, victimized, defeated, and resentful. Women with eating disorders often lack a sense of identity. They try to define themselves by manufacturing an exterior that they feel will be socially approvable. Women with eating disorders often are legitimately angry, but because they seek approval and fear criticism, they do not dare express that anger directly. They do not know how to express it in healthy ways. They turn it against themselves by starving themselves, purging, or binge eating.
Family System and Their Influence on Eating Disorders
Women with eating disorders sometimes say they feel smothered in overprotective families. Other women feel abandoned, misunderstood, and alone. Parents who overvalue physical appearance can unwittingly contribute to their daughter developing an eating disorder. So can those who make critical comments, even in jest, about their daughter’s weight and appearance. Families that include a woman with an eating disorder tend to be overprotective, rigid, and ineffective at resolving conflict. Often, there are high expectations of success. In families like this, the daughters learn not to disclose doubts, fears, anxieties, and imperfections. Instead, they try to solve their problems by manipulating their weight and using food improperly, thus trying to achieve the appearance of success (even if they do not feel successful). It has also been established that as exposure to stress (abuse, neglect, loss of a parent) in childhood increases, the risk of behavioral and emotional problems including eating disorders also increases in adolescence and young adulthood.
Society’s Influence on Eating Disorders
Having appearance-obsessed friends or significant others can create pressure that encourages eating disorders in women. Peers can influence one another in unhealthy ways. This influence can come from seemingly positive activities or affiliations like dance companies or sorority houses. There are also online chat rooms where users discuss how extreme dieting is just a lifestyle choice.
Women who are vulnerable to eating disorders often have relationship problems. Some women may be withdrawn with only superficial or conflicted connections to other people. Other women may seem to be living exciting lives filled with friends and social activities, but later they will confess that they do not feel they really fit in, that no one seems to really understand them, and that they have no true friends or confidants with whom they can share intimate feelings. Often the fear of criticism and rejection if their perceived flaws and shortcomings become known keeps women from developing meaningful and healthy friendships.
Media Influence on Eating Disorders
Our society is flooded by the images and words of the media in which happy and successful women are almost always portrayed by actors and models who are young, toned, and thin. The vast majority are stylishly dressed and have spent much time on hair styles and makeup. This media influence has led many of the young women in the U.S. to become obsessed with their appearance. Reading between the lines of many television and magazine advertisements reveals a not-so-subtle message that girls are not acceptable to society with their current appearance. Often these ads are trying to sell clothing, makeup, or services, but the message many women receive is that their body is what makes them different from the happy people on television. A study has shown that females who regularly watch TV three or more nights per week are 50 percent more likely than non-watchers to feel that they are “too fat.” About two-thirds of the TV-watching female teens dieted in the month preceding the survey. Fifteen percent admitted vomiting to control their weight. TV shows that women watch on television are fantasies, but women all over the world see them as instructions on how to look and act.
Events that Trigger an Eating Disorder
If women are vulnerable to eating disorders because of a combination of any of the factors above (or others), sometimes a trigger event can make the eating disorder more likely to occur (even years after the event). A trigger event could be a cruel teasing or a traumatic event like being raped or molested. There is some evidence to suggest that girls who achieve sexual maturity ahead of their peers, with the associated development of breasts, hips, and other physical signs of womanhood, are at increased risk of becoming eating disordered. They may wrongly interpret their new curves as “being fat” and feel uncomfortable because they no longer look like peers who still have childish bodies. Wanting to take control and fix things, but not really knowing how, and under the influence of a culture that equates success and happiness with thinness, the woman tackles her body instead of the problem at hand. Anorexia, bulimia, or binge/compulsive overeating can become activities the woman takes solace in.
Contact Our Eating Disorder and Addiction Experts
The staff at our eating disorder treatment center is trained and experienced to expertly answer your questions in a caring and supportive manner. We are here to help you put an end to the destruction of disordered eating, but we cannot help unless you reach out and contact us.