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on psychiatry and psychology

Factors Initiating Eating Disorders

Abstract: Why and how, in which situations, does an eating disorder start?

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Factors Initiating Eating Disorders

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Question(s): 
Written by: Fabio Piccini, doctor and Jungian psychotherapist, in charge of the "Centre for Eating Disorders Therapy" at "Malatesta Novello" nursing home in Cesena. Works privately in Rimini and Chiavari. E-mail:
First version: 22 Jul 2008.
Latest revision: 05 Aug 2008.

Why and how, in which situations, does an eating disorder start? What are the causes which start an eating disorder?

Answer:

There is a large specialist bibliography on family predisposing factors for eating disorders. Indeed, for many years eating disorders have been considered by many researchers as a pathology that begins in the family unit.

Nowadays many of the same doctors that were pioneers of this approach have become more prudent in holding the family responsible. It has been demonstrated that eating disorders are pathologies with multiple causalities and that in the families of many eating disorder patients some specific elements can be found:

  • variable levels of communication difficulties among the members
  • incapacity, more or less serious, to recognize emotions
  • serious worrying about weight and body image by some members of the family (besides the patients)

Among close relatives of eating disorder patients, we have found a high incidence of affective disorders, alcoholism, eating disorders.

Generally we can say that a family predisposes a person to suffer from emotional disorders and eating disorders if it cannot pass on a true self-feeling that includes:

  • a clear and realistic body image
  • an awareness of his/her mental functioning
  • clearness of limits between him/her and the world
  • effective adjustment strategies to control his/her impulses, feelings and desires
  • a reasonable self-esteem feeling
  • a good sense of personal identity
  • an interior coherence and feeling of individuality.

A person who does not have these resources will find it difficult to develop his/her talents appropriately, and he/she cannot develop his/her individuality and sense of values. This means that he/she will be predisposed, at different levels, to suffer from some problems, eating disorders among them. Thus, lack of certain capabilities are causes of eating disorders.

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