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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

Actually, no I've never been in therapy even though I obviously need it (not everyone can afford expenive therapy or fancy treatment centers). I just see a psychiatrist and she tends to push the biological theories, although she did refer me to some therapists. I believe in the BIOPSYCHOSOCIAL model of mental illness, not a strictly bio-bio-bio approach or a strictly psychosocial model. Don't assume I'm a brainwashed tool. Please, I'm not that stupid. I am capable of thinking critically and doing research and I don't discriminate when it comes to criticizing people. And you have NO idea what my childhood was like.

November 1, 2009 - 11:09am
EmpowHER Guest

To the person who posted above this, you sound like you have anger issues.

Perhaps you have spent too much time in therapy/treatment with the misguided people.

Time to rethink your future recovery approach?

I am a recovered restrictive anorexic who does not blame my parents in any way for my issues with arorexic and depression.

I came to that conclusion on my own.

Best of recovery success to you!

November 1, 2009 - 10:02am
EmpowHER Guest

I must agree that any scientific information can be construed the way the reader wants the information to be interpreted. Statistics right? Mathematics that you can draw your own conclusions to.

I have never had an ED although several very close friends of mine have. Two things that anonymous wrote are spitting images of what my two friends contributed their EDs to which was abuse and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Both friends of mine had horrible and traumatic upbringings that you would think were only in the theater. Both friends were drugs addicts later in life and had EDs although one has changed her life for the better at the ripe age of 36. I commend her.

I believe that anonymous has a strong point here and people from the outside (like myself) should consider all the issues surrounding the person dealing with this disease.

November 1, 2009 - 9:59am
EmpowHER Guest

It's interesting how most of the commenters are PARENTS and not ED sufferers themselves. I wouldn't necessarily say I had "boundary" violations, whatever the F that means. "Boundary violations" sounds like some New Age liberal white hippie term. That being said, I did have some abuse issues going on. I find it VERY telling that the parents of children with EDs are screaming so loudly and shrilly here. Why not allow some ED sufferers to have a voice? I wonder why it's the PARENTS who are being so publicly loud and histrionic while the ED patients are messaging this author privately to have discussions. Do you people have attention or ego issues?

I think eating disorders are caused by a combination of biology and environment. I FIRMLY believe that genetics is ONE important factor, but NOT the ONLY factor in eating disoders. I think some people are genetically more vulnerable to being more anxious, depressed or obsessive and that stress (which does not necessarily have to be rooted in bad parenting, btw) can trigger an ED or some other mental illness. And to the snotty parents who dismiss the psychosocial factors and talk about how "science" proves that EDs are biologically based illness, I would like to say, ever heard of EPIGENETICS. There is so much SCIENTIFIC research showing that LIFE EXPERIENCES can leave PHYSICAL imprints on the brain. Ever heard of PTSD? The brains of PTSD patients look very different from the brains of "normal" controls. There are so many other scientific studies out there.

It's funny how you lambast this author for being a crackpot who ignores science yet some of you seem to conveniently ignore the science yourselves or you interpret scientific journal articles to your own liking.

November 1, 2009 - 9:34am
EmpowHER Guest

Is this still going?

October 31, 2009 - 5:43pm


I'm sure you do your homework when it comes to representing your clients; I encourage you to do the same when it comes to this very serious disease. The research on the biological basis for eating disorders is very clear. One place to start would be this literature review from Massachusetts General Hospital : http://www2.massgeneral.org/harriscenter/about_an.asp

Several other good links appear in the comments on this article. Criticism of Ms. Poppink's thesis is in no way intended to invalidate the experience of her patients or others who have commented on this post, but treatment must be evidence-based which her article is not.

October 31, 2009 - 3:53pm

Dear Ronin,

Thank you for presenting your perspective and your experience. I am glad you wrote and appreciate your response very much.

Since this article came out on Empoweher it has evoked a stormy public reaction from parents. I am concerned for the people suffering from eating disorders who feel overwhelmed by this parental outcry. Women with eating disorders have written to me privately for support. I have also received private posts from people voicing their agreement with what you say.

Your post is clear and public. To me that means that people with an eating disorder in their history can find what you've written and be reassured that if indeed they experienced boundary violations, they can be heard, believed and understood.

Thank you again.

best regards,


October 31, 2009 - 2:43pm

I have a friend with anorexia and her boundaries as a child/teen/adult have been repeatedly and aggressively violated by her parents, her father in particular. As a criminal defense lawyer with 20 years of experience, I have represented hundreds of clients with mental health issues. In each and every case, the parents failed their son/daughter. And every young woman I've represented with a mental health problem had an unhealthy relationship with her father. I, therefore, have difficult time believing that anorexia is a biologically based disease. Many parents that fail their children would like to blame a psychiatric condition on genetics or some other such nonsense. It I suspect that the negative reactions from the parents responding to this article are based mostly on denial.

October 31, 2009 - 2:22pm

Eating disorders can be many things but they are always extreme. It is thought that most eating disorders surface during adolescence but more recent data has indicated that it could be much earlier or later. One important fact About Eating Disorders is that almost all cases are females with males accounting for well under 10%. Similar to addiction, eating disorders are also a disease but they are treatable. They are caused from very complicated psychological and biological underlying causes. For more related information visit the link below,
May be it is useful for the readers.

October 22, 2009 - 11:03pm
EmpowHER Guest

Considering Ms. Poppink's article and the debate it has generated, this is a timely and dispassionate article:
I hope everyone reading and posting here will take time to read it.
Very best wishes,

June 19, 2009 - 8:52pm
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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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