Eating Disorders – Causes and Remedies

Table of Contents

Eating disorders are psycho-medical conditions related to persisting eating behaviours that adversely affect health, emotions and ability to function in important areas of life.

Eating disorders are of the following types

  • Anorexia nervosa binge-eating/purging subtype
  • Anorexia nervosa restricting subtype 
  • Binge-eating disorder 
  • Bulimia nervosa
  • Rumination disorder 
  • Restrictive food intake disorder

Patients with Anorexia Nervosa have a severe fear of becoming overweight or obese. They also experience body image distortions- perceiving themselves to be overweight even if in reality they are the opposite. People with anorexia restrict their food intake to the point that their weight falls below what is considered to be the Body Mass Index’s minimal weight for a normal person according to their gender, age, and height.

This may happen due to trauma response to bullying, abuse, self-image problems, obsession with particular body types, excessive calorie restrictions, and many more reasons. 

Another common disorder, Bulimia Nervosa, is characterized by eating in binges followed by self-induced vomiting and/or misuse of laxatives to avoid gaining weight. Binge-eating disorder is somewhat similar to bulimia, except that in this disorder the eating binges are not usually followed by extreme compensatory behaviours. 

This is common in many Asian countries for women as there is a specific way women are perceived to be “pretty”. 

In Rumination Disorder, patients repeatedly regurgitate food after eating. Food is brought back up into the mouth without nausea or gagging, and regurgitation may not be intentional. Sometimes regurgitated food is rechewed and swallowed or spit out. 

Restrictive food intake disorder is characterized by failing to eat because one doesn’t have an interest in eating or avoiding food with certain characteristics, such as colour, texture, smell or taste or if one is concerned about the consequences of eating, such as fear of choking. One effortlessly regurgitates within 10 minutes of eating, some may feel “too full” resulting in the undigested food being thrown out right away.

Eating disorders involve focusing excessively on weight, body and food which leads to dangerous eating behaviours. These behaviours can badly impact the body’s ability to get appropriate nutrition. Eating disorders can harm the heart, digestive system, bones, teeth and mouth, and lead to other diseases. It can cause malnutrition,  obesity, anaemia or iron deficiency, and affect menstruation in women. 

Some reasons why people develop eating disorders

  • 25% to 35% of people with eating disorders have faced some form of bullying, trauma or assault. Research shows most people with anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating have a history of either of these- interpersonal trauma, bereavement, accidents, natural disaster, divorce, financial trouble, being threatened, or being diagnosed with a serious disease. 
  • Domestic violence, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect are observed in some patients and these can often cause long-term effects unless corrected. Victims of sexual assault may also believe that they were attacked due to their good looks and by being overweight they are less likely to be attacked again.
  • Those with anorexia and/or bulimia nervosa are also more likely to have higher levels of anxiety. They have a fear of sensations and behaviours they associate with anxiety. For example, they may be afraid of the sensation of losing control. These fears can make it tough for them to feel relaxed and safe.
  • Research suggests that there is a reason for the link between Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and eating disorders. The connection between PTSD and eating disorders involves difficulty in regulating uncomfortable emotions. Patients with eating disorders often have trouble controlling, expressing and listening when it comes to emotional conversations. Binge eating and/or deliberately vomiting may function as a way to manage emotions and give the individual a sense of control. Biological Factors also play a role in the development of an eating disorder. Birth factors were specifically observed in a study- it was found that individuals diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa are more likely to have been born preterm, have low birth weight, or one of the multiple births like a twin or triplet. 
  • Early puberty in girls and late puberty in boys increases the risk of developing an eating disorder. Family history has also been shown to be correlated with eating disorders. These disorders are significantly more likely to occur in people who have parents or siblings or relatives who’ve had an eating disorder. Children are often observant and learn from watching their parents. If parents speak negatively about themselves, diet and self-shame, then the children also do the same by watching their parents’ behaviours. Most teens with anorexia or bulimia have often learnt that behaviour from someone else – usually a school friend suffering from an eating disorder themselves. 
  • Fad diets that become the new trend in fashion are one reason why now dieting is a risk factor for developing an eating disorder. Starvation affects the brain and influences mood changes, rigidity in thinking, anxiety and reduction in appetite. Studies provide evidence that many of the symptoms of an eating disorder are in fact symptoms of starvation. Starvation and weight loss may change the way the brain works in vulnerable individuals, which may perpetuate restrictive eating behaviours and make it difficult to return to normal eating habits. Studies also indicate that people with eating disorders may often have other issues as well. People with an eating disorder often have a history of anxiety disorder, panic disorder, depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder.
  • Social media often sets an unhealthy trend when it comes to body image. Studies show that social media plays a significant role in the development of eating and food-related disorders. They found plenty of evidence demonstrating that the media glorify slenderness and weight loss and emphasize the importance of beauty and appearances. Often models are extremely thin and tall. However, most magazines airbrush or photoshop the celebrities’ pictures to make them look a certain way. Watching these similar images, people try to attain such a look by any means such as starving. Additionally, they may take up smoking believing that it can suppress hunger. Peer pressure for a certain figure such as size zero can also encourage someone to take drastic measures.
  • Stress eating is also an issue- it is done as a form of comfort to reduce stress. However, then there is more stress due to unhealthy eating and hence the patient tries to compensate for it by vomiting or over-exercising. Experiencing stress can negatively impact mental health and increase the risk for psychological disorders including eating disorders.
  • Perfectionism is also an important factor. People with perfectionist tendencies and unrealistic standards for themselves are more likely to have eating disorders. They want to be perfect in every realm of their life be it education, career, relationships and looks. Often their self-worth is derived from how they are perceived by others. They may not tolerate even slight imperfections in them. To achieve a picture-perfect look, they may have maladaptive eating patterns.
  • In narcissistic families, often food is controlled and starvation is used as a means to punish. In such families, the children are likely to have a unique relation to how food is perceived. Vice versa, in families with smothering over-affectionate tendencies, children are taught that giving food is the way of communicating love and the more food is given, the more you are loved.

What are the Remedies for Eating disorders?

  • Therapy  

It’s observed that people with eating disorders when they go toIndividual or group therapy seem to get better or at least start understanding what is actually happening to them. Therapy not only validates your feelings but also addresses your trauma. Therapy overall heals a person as the therapists not only understand their disorders in-depth but are also equipped with the correct knowledge and medications to treat their patients. Seeking help would be a great start to your journey of healing yourself. 

  • Mindfulness

Practising mindfulness, an ability which helps you become aware of your thoughts, actions and the present moment will help you practically approach daily challenges. Mindfulness helps you connect to your higher self, and makes you a capable being. It will make you calmer and less tense when facing a social challenge.

  • Positive Affirmations

In order  to heal yourself completely, you need to believe in yourself positive affirmations listed below will help you heal,

“I am the most important person for myself’

“I take care of myself”

“I love myself and accept all parts of myself”

“My body doesn’t define myself worth”

“Eating food nourishes my body and I want my body to be fueled”

  • Digital Detox

Sometimes your brain gets clogged by social media and their beauty standards for men and women. In such cases, all you need to do is a detox. Delete those apps, cut off that toxic person who has been on your mind and go off the grid. Pick up a book and read, journal your thoughts and let it out. Healing is a slow process, don’t rush.

  • Metaphysical Perspective 

This therapy is a more holistic approach to healing as it focuses more on spiritual healing than just focusing on the symptoms. They focus on healing your inner child, PTSD, and help you shadow work your challenges. It focuses on personal one-on-one training so that you can get an insight into how you’re feeling.

Most suggest CBT, DBT and REBT for the treatment of eating disorders. Anxiety, fear and the underlying trauma must be addressed to be able to work on the unhealthy eating practices. Cultivating and reinforcing a healthy body image, and cutting off from unhealthy social media trends will help a lot. Working on self-esteem will go a long way in overcoming these tendencies. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is psychotherapy focused on accepting the negative feelings you have and moving on. It focuses on commitment to a healthy lifestyle 


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