Eating Disorders and the Psychology Behind Them

Millions of Americans struggle with eating disorders in various forms. Although eating disorders overwhelmingly affect girls and women, males are certainly not immune to these potentially deadly mental health conditions.

The three major types of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating. Anorexia is basically an obsession with thinness where the sufferer will severely limit their food intake. Bulimia is characterized by eating large quantities of food, then afterwards attempting to offset the effects of mass caloric consumption through actions such as self-induced vomiting, excessive exercise and the taking of laxatives. Binge eating is compulsive overeating with an inability to gain control during periods of consumption, which vary in duration.

What’s Beneath the Surface?

A variety of circumstances can contribute to the development of an eating disorder. Studies have indicated that genetics may play a role in many cases. But aside from pre-existing anxiety or mood disorders, cultural and other psychological factors are often at the heart of abnormal eating habits and full-blown eating disorders.

In a society that conveys a thin-is-attractive message, many girls and women feel pressured to lose weight or remain slim. In order to accomplish this, they will often cultivate unhealthy eating habits that can eventually lead to serious health problems, or worse.

A distorted body image is one major psychological issue that many who develop eating disorders struggle with. This is a situation where an individual — despite their actual physique — will see themselves as much larger than they truly are.

Efforts to Heal

The first order of business in anorexia cases is to restore the patient’s weight to a healthy level. But in all eating disorders cases, the chief goals of therapy are to help patients adjust their habits and belief systems as well as establish a healthier view of themselves and a more realistic overall outlook.

Anorexia treatment, bulimia treatment and the treatment of binge eating disorders usually begins with some form of psychotherapy or “talk” therapy. This is often done in conjunction with cognitive behavioral therapies. For more severe cases, eating disorders treatment centers are located throughout the country where a patient can be monitored, receive proper nutrition and nutritional counseling as well as have medications administered to them, if deemed necessary.


This blog is written and published by Lindner Center of HOPE.