Eating Disorders Information (EDI)

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Eating Disorders and Anxiety: Are They Correlated?

Posted by a.marlow on May 1, 2013 at 7:15 PM Comments comments (0)

Below is an article penned by guest contributor Ryan Rivera. He runs calm clinic dot com and has written several articles on the subject of anxiety that have been published on various websites. 

Eating disorders and anxiety often go hand in hand. People who are suffering from a specific eating disorder are also plagued with negative thoughts and mental imbalance, the same symptoms for depression. There have been claims that these two conditions are related; however, no hard evidence has been presented to support this until recently.  Mental health practitioners who have been intensively studying the underlying causes of these two disorders have found an absolute connection.  

The development of an eating disorder, such as anorexia or bulimia, does not stem from the hate or disgust for food or weight but rather on specific emotional issues where food becomes an indirect participant. The person turns to food or away from it as a defense mechanism against emotional stress. This emotional stress is directly related to the things that can cause anxiety. Studies have been conducted and have shown that most people who have an eating disorder are also suffering from an anxiety disorder. 

It is still debatable which of them occurred first and caused the other. The widely accepted theory is that anxiety precedes eating disorder. A good analogy is a person who is suffering from anorexia.  This person is obsessed with the fear of becoming overweight. The fear can be so extreme that food becomes an enemy.  Food is avoided as much as possible, which is both unhealthy and harmful to one’s health.  

The person’s fear can be rooted from the society that sees obesity as an ugly physical aspect. This mentality will cause anxiety. This can push the individual to develop anorexia. But different types of eating disorders are not similar to each other. That is why this conjecture will not hold true for all situations.   

The truth is that most people who are suffering from an eating disorder are also likely suffering from anxiety or depression. 

There are usual anxiety disorders that are often found in people with eating disorders. 

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) occurs when people have a strong obsession in following certain rules or rituals. If they are not able to follow this set of rules, they undergo a state of great stress and restlessness. 

Panic Disorder is an intense flood of negative thoughts and emotions that can literally paralyze a person in fear. These attacks are uncontrollable and can come without warning. 

General Anxiety Disorder is a prolonged state of restlessness and worry that lasts far longer than normal. Some of these worries maybe irrational but causes excessive distress to the person. 

Social Anxiety Disorder is characterized by intense fear of social interactions or of the public. A person with social anxiety disorder is very self-conscious and uncomfortable being in public for fear that they will be ridiculed or embarrassed.  


OCD and social anxiety are particularly common for people with eating disorders. In cases of bulimia or binge-purge type anorexia, where a person eats a large amount of food then immediately purges it out through vomit or laxatives, they are hounded by a fear of gaining weight that promptly induces them to purge. As the disorder progresses, the ritual becomes habitual and turns into a cycle. Because of these revelations, several treatments for eating disorders are also combined with therapies that are considered help for anxiety.  



Marxism and the alienated body image

Posted by a.marlow on November 16, 2012 at 2:50 PM Comments comments (3)

When I'm not training to be a psychotherapist, I spend a great deal of my time doing a Masters degree in European Law at a French University. One of my (favourite) modules is called "Pensée Politique Contemporaine" (translated: contemporary political thought) and today's lecture covered the socialist thought of Karl Marx. Certain concepts arose in the course of this lecture that felt relevant to the psychological issues around body image, and I thought I'd share them with you.

Firstly, however, we need to detoxify the subject. "Marxism" and "socialism" have become dirty words to many people, so we need to define what we means by them.

We can crudely divide the thought of Karl Marx into two categories: the thought of Marx the critic, and the thought of Marx the revolutionary. Marx the critic would be the author of the four-volume work Capital, who provides an insightful and incisive critique of 19th century capitalism, both from an economic and a philosophical angle. Marx the revolutionary would be the author of The Communist Manifesto, who advocates, among other things, the abolition of family and religion, the setting up of a 'dictatorship of the proletariat', and the subsequent evolution of a classless, stateless society. It is perfectly possible to agree with the first Marx that capitalism has its flaws while disagreeing with the second Marx about what to do about them- and it is to the critical thought of the first Marx that we look today.

There are two key concepts central to Marxist thought that will frame this discussion: exploitation and alienation. Put very crudely, exploitation refers to the situation that occurs when a worker puts in 12 hours of labour and only gets 6 hours worth of wages (the remaining six hours making up the money re-invested in the company and the take-home profit of the capitalist). Alienation is the result of this process. There was a time, many centuries ago, when most workers were self-employed craftsmen who owned the means of their production. They took pride in their work. The labourer's work was an extension of himself, of his identity. (For Marx, man is nought but his labour. This can be boiled down to the more general idea that we are defined only by what we do and how we act.) By leaving this utopia of self-employed craftsmanship and becoming a 'wage-slave', this is no longer the case: one man's labour becomes the property of someone else (the capitalist) and, in a very real way, a key part of one's self-defined identity is taken away. The situation is not made any better during holiday time or retirement, since this time is defined by an absence of labour and, thus, by an absence of the self-edifying and self-defining properties that working on one's own project in one's own interest can bring.

This is the crux of Marx's thought and, though it has some holes in it, its general principles can be applied to the plight of the anorexic, bulimic and body dysmorphic who, perhaps, feels alienated from their body. Yet one crucial addition needs to be made to the above analysis before it makes sense: the role of the body, especially the female body, in modern society. Authors like Susie Orbach have made the case that modern capitalism has turned the body into a commodity by which one sells oneself to the world. This is especially true for women, who can seemingly go nowhere without being confronted by airbrushed photographs of models and celebrities whose very raison d'être seems to be their appearance, and little else (see this video for a powerful visual account of this fact). The effect is not lost on men, either, who are perhaps more likely to manifest the pathological effects of this phenomenon through muscle dysmorphia rather than anorexia.

So can we see conditions like anorexia, bulimia and body dysmorphia as some kind of response to a capitalism that alienates people from their own bodies, transforming them into images to be possessed for sale on the market rather than an integrative part of one's identity? Perhaps. If this were true, then women, presented with a social market where the thinnest, skinniest body sells, would do terrible things to their bodies in order to make them into marketable images, whatever the cost to their physical and mental health- for the body is viewed as an image, a possession, rather than an intrisic part of oneself.

Yet we must tread with caution. The picture is far more complicated that the one presented above, with genetic considerations and the practice of early family life to be thrown into the mix; and, while it may be argued that anorexia nervosa first appeared as a diagnostic label during the industrialisation of the 19th century, it would be rash to  jump to conclusions about potential links with capitalism, especially when similar behaviour in centuries before may simply have been presented as religious asceticism rather than a desire to lose weight.

Yet it remains a fact that certain people suffering from eating disorders may feel drawn to the explanation given above and may find it helpful in their recovery. It may even spur them on to join groups like UK Feminista or Reclaim the Night, choosing a path of activism against the system that alienated them from their own bodies- and this in itself can be therapeutic.  And it may be useful for therapists themselves to keep this possibility in mind as a way of understanding certain anorexic clients who come their way.

Insecure relationships predict body image problems

Posted by a.marlow on October 10, 2012 at 10:15 AM Comments comments (0)

What causes an eating disorder or, more generally, a body image problem? One theory is that it is a mixture of parents, peers and media- and in the latest edition of Body Image, Hardit & Hannum tested that hypothesis.

Surprisingly, they found that parental critism and peer pressure were very minor factors in creating body dissatisfaction - while, unsurprisingly, the media was found to be a very significant factor indeed. What is interesting, however, is what they discovered about who was affected by the media. It was only those who had "anxious attachments"- which is a technical psychological way of saying that they were insecure in their relationships with other people. It seems, then, that, according to this study at least, a body image problem (and potentially an eating disorder- although this study did not specifically test for that) arises when one does not feel secure with one's friends or family and, surrounded by the values of our current society daily transmitted through the media, concludes that the reason one might not be acceptable to them is because of one's body. This creates dissatisfaction which, in extremes, can lead to psychological conditions like anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and body dysmorphia.


Hardit, S. K., & Hannum, J. W., 2012. "Attachment, the tripartite influence model, and the development of body dissatisfaction", Body Image, 9(4), 469-475

Peer victimisation in early adolescence leads to greater body shame in girls

Posted by a.marlow on October 10, 2012 at 6:05 AM Comments comments (0)

"Objectified body consciousness" is a term invented by feminist psychologists to describe what happens when we start viewing our bodies as objects that exist for other peoples' pleasure and/or judgment rather than for our own enjoyment, as the expression of our own subjectivity. Recent research indicates that peer victimisation at a young age makes us more likely to be ashamed of our bodies and to view them in this objective, judged-by-others way.

A study published last year by Lunde & Frisén tested this hypothesis by giving a sample of 602 Swedish children questionnaires to fill in at ages 10 and 18. They found that "peer victimisation" at age 10 was linked with greater body-monitoring at age 18 for both boys and girls, but that girls were more likely to feel shame about their bodies than boys.

What this means is that being bullied or ostracised in early life for one's appearance can lead to long-term effects, perhaps even after the victimisation has stopped. While it is not clear whether those who suffered "peer victimisation" at age 10 continued to suffer it throughout adolescence, it is reasonable to assume that even among those whose suffering was short-lived, its impact can be long-term.

This study did not look specifically at eating disorders- only at body shame. It is therefore not possible to extrapolate anything from it about whether this increase in body shame led to an increase in eating disorders. However, the message is clear: bullying and ostracisation early in life can still have harmful effects much later on.


Lunde, C & Frisén, A, 2011. "On being victimised by peers in the advent of adolescence: Prospective relationships to objectified body consciousness", Body Image, 8(4), 309-314

Spending time with nature

Posted by a.marlow on October 8, 2012 at 5:40 AM Comments comments (0)

It might sound glib but, if you're suffering from a body image problem, it might do you good to get out into nature for a bit.

What does nature have to do with an eating disorder or body dysmorphia, though?

The answer lies in what might have caused that condition. It is at least partly true that our society's cultural standards of beauty and attractiveness are responsible for the creation of such disorders- from this perspective, it makes perfect sense that a woman who is constantly trying to get thinner, despite being told by her friends that she already looks like a skeleton, would be doing so because of a perceived pressure to be thin. And, from this perspective, it also makes sense that taking yourself out of the environment that made you feel that pressure in the first place could only do you good.

This idea has (not so) recently been tested by one ecopsychologist. Writing in the Journal Ecopsychology, Hennigan describes a study she conducted on the lived experiences of 12 women during time spent in nature. Hennigan concluded that: "results of this organic inquiry supported the idea that spending time in natural settings improved body image by way of distancing women from the cultural context, increasing embodied experiences, and supporting connection to nature." In plain english, this means that getting into the countryside can both take you away from the cultural pressures of living in a city where you are constantly bombarded by messages about how to lose weight etc., and also that being in nature itself is a way of experiencing your body as something positive.


Hennigan, K, 2010. "Therapeutic Potential of Time in Nature: Implications for Body Image in Women", Ecopsychology, 2(3), 135-140