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Number One Reason for Developing an Eating Disorder

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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.

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EmpowHER Guest

This woman and some of the other so called 'professionals' who are praising what she said are really scary! Go back to school, do your homework, keep up with the times/research - people. You can do a lot of harm. Parents do not cause eating disorders. Period. Sheez.

November 16, 2009 - 5:54pm
EmpowHER Guest

"But, the problem with attributing an eating disorder to a biologically based predisposition toward it is that testing is done AFTER the ED sufferer has developed the ED."

Exactly. PLUS, who's to say that some of the brain malfunction might not be caused in part by chronic malnutrition? It's like asking whether the chicken or the egg came first. We don't know if the ED behaviors are a CAUSE or a result of these brain malfunctions. Malnutrition is known to wreak havoc on the brain and body.

November 2, 2009 - 8:32pm
EmpowHER Guest


I suffered from anorexia and never experienced ANY emotional, sexual or other abuse from my parents or anybody else.

My parents were/are loving and wonderful people.

Keep your day job!

November 2, 2009 - 8:35am

I don't doubt that there is evidence that those suffering from an ED have some type of malfunctioning brain circuitry. But, the problem with attributing an eating disorder to a biologically based predisposition toward it is that testing is done AFTER the ED sufferer has developed the ED. I suspect that it is far more likely that the relentless environmental stress these women have been subjected to caused the brain to malfunction. I've read articles that demonstrate that, following successful therapy, brain scans of individuals who had recovered from a mental illness no longer suffered from any brain abnormality.

The "biologically based predisposition" argument can leave sufferers of any mental illness believing that they are genetically flawed and that full recovery is not possible. And, again, I don't buy that argument. It also possible that attributing an ED to genetics could discourage ED sufferers from confronting the emotionally based hostility/fear at that the root of the ED. Worse, parents that have failed their son or daughter, can cite the predisposition argument to absolve themselves of blame and, tragically, continue mistreating their child. I suspect that one reason that individuals find it so difficult to overcome an ED is that those who caused or contributed to the development of these EDs refuse to amend their behavior toward the ED sufferer. Indeed, the unfortunate behaviors that accompany an ED may very well cause bad parents to treat the ED sufferer worse. How difficult must it be for a person suffering from an emotional illness to recover, despite therapy, if those that made the individual sick fail or refuse to amend their ways? Now, the person suffering from a emotional illness is subjected to the same unhealthy environment while having to grapple with the "shame" of being labeled with a disorder.

While my friend who suffers from anorexia can be difficult to reach, it is not her fault. How could it be different? How difficult must it be for someone who has been so relentlessly emotionally abused to trust anyone? To not fear exposure of her most inner most pain and subsequent rejection and abandonment when the people who should have cared for her repeatedly let her down? And how much more difficult becomes the task of establishing a foundation of trust with her if well-meaning, but misguided, experts tell her that she's just a genetically flawed individual? My friend is not genetically flawed -- she's in pain, encased in a protective shell, and, I believe, hoping someone she can truly trust will come along to help extricate her from her pain.

November 2, 2009 - 8:28am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Ronin)

For goodness sake many physically illnesses have some genetic predisposition. We don't talk in terms of the individuals being gentically flawed and give up on them. Hopefully they will receive evidence based treatment for whatever their illness and taught how to look after themselves to keep themselves healthy. They are made to feel "ashamed" by a society that isn't presented with current research. Many many parents ( yes I agree not all) who love their children have been made to feel guilty and "ashamed" of so called creating a child with an eating disorder. That is a disgrace.

Your friend is not "genetically flawed" because she has an eating disorder, neither is my son who has a kidney disorder, nor are the children I work with who have inherited dyslexia or language disorders. But yes they have inherited the genes that predispose them to these difficulties. It does not make them any less a loved, valued member of the community and their families. Please do not suggest that having a genetic predisposition makes you somehow a flawed individual. Knowing one has a gentic predisposition to any disorder or illness is valuable information whether it's breast cancer, heart failure or a learning disability. I wish your friend the very best. I hope like my two young adult children she will recover from her illness and learn how to maintain her mental and physical healthy from then on.

PS There is an increasing amount of research identifying those "at risk" PRIOR to the onset of an eating disorder and encouraging early intervention.

January 3, 2010 - 4:55am
EmpowHER Guest

Take good care of your precious self, Anony.

November 1, 2009 - 11:32am
EmpowHER Guest

Okay, thanks for your post Anon. I don't quite agree with you but I believe you're a sincere person.

November 1, 2009 - 11:27am
EmpowHER Guest

Oh, just to clarify, I have dx of EDNOS, depression, and anxiety. Even though I talked about PTSD in my post I don't actually have PTSD.

November 1, 2009 - 11:24am
EmpowHER Guest


A lot of people have a terrible childhood but they do not suffer from ED.

Sorry ... I believe that blaming a bad childhood or parents for an ED disorder is just misguided.

Why don't you take your psychiatrist's advice and go to a therapist that she recommends?

Best of luck to you!

I don't know if you suffer from BN OR AN, but I can tell you from personal experience - you CAN recover completely from an eating disorder.

May you find recovery and peace!

November 1, 2009 - 11:16am
EmpowHER Guest

Good post miscortes.

November 1, 2009 - 11:14am
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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.

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