Eating disorders are among the most curious in the psychological realm given that they involve something that is critical to life. We cannot survive without food. As such, it’s easy to think that the brain would have no problem keeping food in the proper perspective. Yet that’s not always the case. For people with eating disorders, maintaining a healthy attitude toward food is not a given.
As a psychoanalyst in London, I work with patients suffering from eating disorders. I know just how real they are. In fact, the most recent estimates suggest that some 1.25 million people in the UK suffer from an eating disorder. Approximately 75% of them are female. The most well-known eating disorders are:
- Binge eating disorder (22%)
- Bulimia (19%)
- Anorexia (8%)
- Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) (5%).
A category known as Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorders (OSFED) accounts for the most cases in the UK at 47%. Disorders in this category are clearly observed despite not having specific symptoms that would qualify them as one of the other types, like bulimia or anorexia.
Our Relationship with Food
With all of the statistical data out of the way, let’s talk about eating disorders from a psychological standpoint. For many people, it boils down to a person’s relationship with food. That relationship begins in infancy.
A new baby begins feeding very shortly after birth. From the fist hours of life, the child associates food with mum’s presence. That leads to an association between nourishment and the loving care of the baby’s parents. That early association between food and love rarely goes away. In fact, it only strengthens.
How many of us have fond memories of our parents or grandparents, memories that are associated with food? We turn to food when we want to celebrate special occasions. In the quest to find a lifelong partner, we rely on restaurant dinners and coffee shop conversations to facilitate dating.
All of this is completely normal and acceptable. Remember, food plays a key role in our lives. The fact that we associate it with feelings of encouragement, fondness, and love is not surprising. Still, what is the association between these positive feelings and eating disorders?
Deeply Rooted Thoughts and Emotions
As a psychoanalyst, I have worked with patients whose eating disorders are directly tied to their perceptions of personal appearance. What one thinks about his or her appearance can be tricky under the best of circumstances. But in this day and age, our obsession with what we look like can make life difficult for people who already have an unhealthy relationship with food.
More often than not, eating disorders are associated with deeply rooted thoughts and emotions most would perceive as negative. These include low self-esteem, loneliness, depression, anger, and anxiety. A smaller number of patients develop eating disorders as a result of past physical or sexual abuse.
In essence, the psychology of eating disorders is rooted in experiencing thoughts and emotions one doesn’t know how to deal with. And because of that, the patient turns to food as a means of comfort. Food represents those positive thoughts and emotions the patient wishes were experienced more often.
I know first-hand just how devastating eating disorders can be. Many times it is related to strong ambivalence affections towards people we love: as human beings is difficult to accept we sometimes… hate or are deeply angry with people we care for. Contact me today to see how we can help you.