Hide This

FREEHER HealthToolkit

HER Health Toolkit

Sign up for EmpowHER updates and you'll receive our
FREE HER Health Toolkit

Active Adult

Get Email Updates

Health Newsletter

Receive the latest and greatest in women's health and wellness from EmpowHER - for free!

Number One Reason for Developing an Eating Disorder

By Joanna Poppink
 
Rate This

Hundreds of people have asked me why someone develops an eating disorder. Of course many issues are involved, but from my exploration of this field over the years, I have concluded that there is one outstanding theme that runs through every person with an eating disorder whom I have encountered.

Early in their lives, people with eating disorders have experienced, on a sustained basis, relentless boundary invasion on every level.

When their physical, emotional, psychological, intellectual, sexual, and creative boundaries are consistently ignored and penetrated, people experience total boundary invasion. With no control and no way to end, protest, or, often, even acknowledge such invasions, these persons feel helplessness, despair, and a certainty that they are worthless to themselves or anyone else.

The consequences of such total invasion are vast. One consequence is an eating disorder. Having had so many boundaries disregarded, a person has no knowledge or skills in recognizing or honoring boundaries herself. She will eat or starve for emotional relief.

She may eat vast amounts of food for comfort value alone. She may deprive herself of food until her life is in danger. She has no internal regulator that tells her when she has reached her limit and experienced enough. Being oblivious to any boundaries means being oblivious to limits of any kind.

The compulsive overeater eats whenever and whatever she likes. She bases her choices on self-medication issues, not feelings of physical hunger.
The anorexic will not eat. There is no limit to her not eating. She will starve herself to death in search of relief from her emotional pain. She knows nothing of the experience of having enough. She couldn't say, "Enough," to an invader of her boundaries, and she can't say it to herself. The concept of enough has no meaning to her. She often feels that if she "disappeared," she might find some permanent relief.

I have heard countless anorexic young women talk ethereally, with a lost-in-a-beautiful-world-of-angels smile, of how wonderful it would be to become a vapor or a light dancing spirit in the clouds. Ah, such spiritual bliss, they imagine.

Add a Comment204 Comments

Sysy92

I've had anorexia since I was 8, now weigh 84.8 lbs at 19 years old and 5'4'', and I have yet to find out the cause or "reason" for my E.D. though I would love to know. When I was in the hospital, they told my parents and I that it was "because I wanted to stay a little girl". And that was highly untrue in my mind. They also said that my parents are "making me feel like I have to stay a little girl". Which is also very untrue, my parents were and are great parents. I don't believe they had anything to do with it, and the doctors definitely made them feel guilty as well as myself. It's hard to believe how doctors will blame anyone and anything..especially when you've explained to them all your struggles and they totally eliminate everything you said, and then try to mentally feed you why they think you have it, and when you tell them they are wrong, they insist YOU are wrong.
The whole thing, is WRONG.

September 9, 2011 - 7:36am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous

I agree with the comments that the family should not be blamed. Our experience with out daughter was that she lost 20 pounds over a period of time and was at a healthy weight. But something biologically must have happened because it started to become an obsession and led to anorxia and then bulimia. We used the Maudsley method to refeed and fortunately she returned to a weight that medicine (fluoxetine-60mg which is effective amount for this disorder according to studies) would benefit her. It was a miracle. This was very biological. We wondered often if we were in any way the cause and she repeatedly told us and the counselor and the dietician that it was not the case. I think she had gotten an inbalance in her brain due to not enough fats, or hormones or something we may never know but it turned her obsessive about calories, exercise, and everything else associated with an eating disorder. Her personality was lost and the eating disorder controlled her. After medicine which went from 20mg to 60mg fairly quickly we saw the daughter we had really lost 2 years prior to that. Looking back there were signs that we would never have associated with an eating disorder but realize now they were just the beginning. I think saying that borders have something to do with so many eating disordered patients is harmful to the parents and also may keep them from seeing how very important the biological part of it is. I need to add though that it is very important they are not underweight when given the medicine as studies have shown it is not as effective in underweight patients.

December 3, 2010 - 11:07am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous

I agree with the comments that the family should not be blamed. Our experience with out daughter was that she lost 20 pounds over a period of time and was at a healthy weight. But something biologically must have happened because it started to become an obsession and led to anorxia and then bulimia. We used the Maudsley method to refeed and fortunately she returned to a weight that medicine (fluoxetine-60mg which is effective amount for this disorder according to studies) would benefit her. It was a miracle. This was very biological. We wondered often if we were in any way the cause and she repeatedly told us and the counselor and the dietician that it was not the case. I think she had gotten an inbalance in her brain due to not enough fats, or hormones or something we may never know but it turned her obsessive about calories, exercise, and everything else associated with an eating disorder. Her personality was lost and the eating disorder controlled her. After medicine which went from 20mg to 60mg fairly quickly we saw the daughter we had really lost 2 years prior to that. Looking back there were signs that we would never have associated with an eating disorder but realize now they were just the beginning. I think saying that borders have something to do with so many eating disordered patients is harmful to the parents and also may keep them from seeing how very important the biological part of it is. I need to add though that it is very important they are not underweight when given the medicine as studies have shown it is not as effective in underweight patients.

December 3, 2010 - 11:07am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous

Instead of arguing about WHY eating disorders happen ... what/who causes them ... isn't it better to focus on and educate oneself and others on HOW people can best recover from them?

Most of the experts agree that they really don't know what causes eating disorders, so what is the point of arguing?

"Boundaries" ???

So if one gets a 'fix' on how to set 'boundaries', that is going to be what SOLVES their eating disorder issues?
I think NOT. So what is the point of talking about 'boundaries'?
If well-meaning parents (particularly mothers) deprived their child at any early age in some way, so it's best that one separates themselves from their mother and other family members? And that's going to help - HOW?

I spent years blaming my mother for my eating disorder and other problems, until I finally figured out that my eating disorder and other issues had more to do about ME and how I was 'wired' than anything to do with what she did or did not do.
As far as her being 'controlling' in any way, nothing could have been further from the truth. My problems with my mother began when at an early age, I was so let down to find out that she did not meet my definition of 'perfect mom'.
Poor me. Now I realize that my mom had (and has) the right to be who she is. If who she is didn't match up to my expectations, too bad. She worked her butt off to do the best she could to give her kids a good life and never turned her back on us once when we went through difficult challenges. She was always there for us. Now that she is old, I realize how much she loved (and loves) me.

I am recovered now and have a daughter who has an eating disorder. Was I, in some way, the cause of that?
Sure. Genetics played a role and likely my 'less than perfection' at motherhood did, as well. Lucky for me, my daughter cuts me a lot more slack than I did my mom. And like my mom, I will never turn my back on my daughter. I will support her recovery in any way that I am capable of doing.

I read all the latest research, buy the latest books, listen to smart researchers and attend as many conferences as I can to learn as much as I can about what I can do to help myself, my daughter and others.

Here is an example of a conference that sounds interesting upcoming on Dec. 3 at in Corning, NY.
If I lived in or near NY, I would attend.

"Inside the Brain/Outside the Box"

"The goal is to better understand how starvation affects the brain and explore alternative therapies and how they maximize the brain's inherent potential to heal, said registered dietitian Carolyn Hodges Chaffee, the owner of the Elmira eating disorder treatment centers.

Robarge died in 2000 after a long struggle with an eating disorder. She was 13.

Dr. Richard Levine, the keynote speaker, will discuss the impact starvation has on the functioning of the brain. Levine, a nationally recognized expert, is a professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at the Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine.

Levine is also chief of the Division of Adolescent Medicine and Eating Disorders at Pennsylvania State Children's Hospital and the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center in Hershey, Pa.

Jeannetta Burpee, an occupational therapist at St. Joseph's Hospital in Elmira, will discuss the role sensory integration -- the neurological process that organizes sensations from one's own body and the environment -- plays in the treatment of eating disorders.

Psychotherapist Andrew Seubert of Corning will highlight recent findings about the functioning of various areas of the brain in eating disorder patients. He will also discuss nutritional and non-pharmacological interventions that can restore brain balance and health.

Clare Brown, program director of the Sol Stone Center, will discuss and demonstrate the use of art therapy, yoga, meditation and other alternative therapies in the treatment of eating disorders.

A panel of patients who have used alternative therapies will talk about their experiences to conclude the seminar, according to a news release.

The seminar begins at 8 a.m. Dec. 3 with registration and concludes at 4 p.m. Registration is $75 before Nov. 26 and $100 after Nov. 26. Family and group rates are available upon request."

http://www.stargazette.com/article/20101018/NEWS01/10180340/1113/Seminar...

October 18, 2010 - 9:27pm
Cary Cook BSN RN (reply to Anonymous)

Thank you so much for sharing this information. Part of the problem, in my opinion, is that eating disorders are as varied as the people who have them. Each sufferer is different, each of the families is different, and that means while dynamics may have commonalities from person to person the cause and solution is specific to the person. There have to be many modes of treatment, because there are many differences among people with eating disorders.

It is wise of you to keep up on all the new information. You never know what kernel you grab from something is going to be just the thing that clicks for you and your daughter. I wish you both the best. Thank you so much for writing.

October 19, 2010 - 6:24am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous

See Dan Siegel's wonderful talk on the developing mind and how issues of early attunement and connection affect a child's development and ability to cope in their adult life.

http://fora.tv/2009/06/30/Dan_Siegel_The_Brain_and_the_Developing_Mind

October 18, 2010 - 5:22pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous

Cary Cook,
I am healing and I can thank many people for that - including good therapists, wonderful doc/psychiatrist, nurses, RD, my parents' dedication - and God.

I am sending you healing vibes, too, with hope that your challenges with RA become less.

Regards!

October 15, 2010 - 6:28pm
anne57

Back one last time with evidenced-based research to support family-based therapy as the intervention of choice in most instances. As MOST eating disorders start in adolescence or the teen years, this information is critical to get into the hands of families. It is also critical that families ask for it as only then will clinicians begin to offer it on a more widespread basis.
--ANNE--
The Wall Street Journal
OCTOBER 5, 2010

Parental Role Aids Anorexia Recovery
By SHIRLEY S. WANG

Anorexia patients' families, once considered partly to blame for adolescents succumbing to the dangerous eating disorder, are increasingly being incorporated into the solution.

In the strongest evidence to date to suggest families should be involved in treatment, a 121-patient study published Monday found that a therapy in which parents remain present at each meal until an anorexic child eats appears to be more effective in fostering recovery than when a child works solely with a therapist.

The so-called Maudsley model—developed at Maudsley Hospital in London more than 20 years ago—calls for parents to take charge of feeding a severely underweight child, "making it impossible not to eat," said Daniel Le Grange, one of the study's authors and director of the Eating Disorders Program at the University of Chicago.

Patients with anorexia nervosa, a sometimes deadly disorder, often refuse to eat because of a fear of gaining weight and develop abnormally low body weight as a result. The condition was once thought to be related to a patient's desire for independence and it was believed that treatment required separation from parents.

Even now, a popular criticism of the Maudsley method is that it "runs roughshod" over adolescents' need to develop independence, according to Dr. Le Grange.

While anorexia tends to develop in teenage girls, the illness can also affect males and people of other ages.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Chicago and Stanford University, showed that one year after treatment ended, patients who received family therapy were more likely to reach and stay in recovery compared with those treated one-on-one by a therapist.

The difference in effectiveness became more pronounced over time. At the end of the year-long treatment regimen, about 42% of patients in the family-therapy group were considered in remission—that is, within 5% of their healthy body weight—compared with 23% of those in the individual-therapy group, though the difference wasn't deemed statistically significant. But 12 months later, nearly half those in the family-treatment group were in full remission, which was significantly better than the 23% in the professional-therapist group.

The study appeared in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

"This is additional evidence that involvement of the family can be a very effective way in helping kids overcome their problems," said B. Timothy Walsh, an eating-disorder researcher and professor of psychiatry at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, Columbia University Medical Center, who wasn't involved with the study.

When Rina Ranalli began using the Maudsley approach for her then-13-year-old daughter in September 2008, she was skeptical. But Ms. Ranalli and her husband tag-teamed to sit with her through three meals and three snacks daily. For the first two months "it was hell," said Ms. Ranalli, who said she told her daughter over and over, "This is your food, this is your medicine, this is what you're eating, no question."

By November, her daughter was gaining weight consistently, the meals weren't as prolonged and Ms. Ranalli started "seeing sparks" of her daughter's personality again. The girl was able to reach her target weight by January.

"It's just a very difficult thing to endure emotionally," said Ms. Ranalli, a stay-at-home mother in Chicago, but "when you can actually be part of the solution, it empowers you."

Write to Shirley S. Wang at shirley.wang@wsj.com

October 15, 2010 - 5:43pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to anne57)

Thank you for posting this article about the new research, Anne57.

I just returned from the NEDA Conference in NY, and this exciting research was the talk of the place ... as was the other latest research that completely refutes old-fashioned and harmful notions about 'boundaries' and the like held by old-school therapists like Johanna. Most of the sessions/workshop presenters at NEDA were very 21st century with today's knowledge of causation and appropriate treatments. I did sit in on one where the therapist showed us photos of babies and told us that anorexia and other eating disorders begin in infancy - with poor bonding with mothers.

It's pathetic, really - and quite harmful.

I spent time in treatment facilities where therapists tried to tell me that my parents were responsible/to blame for my getting anorexia.
It did me no good but a great deal of harm.

The good news is that parents AND sufferers are getting a lot of good information today which help them understand the need to stay away from people like Johanna and to go to treatment providers who really 'get it' for help.

Hopefully, we can put a stop to the blaming of parents and other family members for causing eating disorders. This is false.

I love you mom and dad!

October 15, 2010 - 6:13pm
Cary Cook BSN RN (reply to Anonymous)

Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I hope this means you are healing.

October 15, 2010 - 6:21pm
Image CAPTCHA
Enter the characters shown in the image.
By submitting this form, you agree to EmpowHER's terms of service and privacy policy

We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

Improved

1793 Health

Changed

695 Lives

Saved

552 Lives
17 lives impacted in the last 24 hrs Learn More

Take Our Featured Health Poll

Do you think sex gets better as you age? :
View Results