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Tools To Improve Your LifeA woman tells me that she is pregnant. She is happy and scared. Happy that she is going to have a baby and scared that she won’t be able to control her weight by her usual methods: purging and laxatives.  She is anorectic and bulimic.  Another young woman tells me that she is getting big as a house from overeating, but she cannot stop herself. She constantly has to buy new clothes, but she is running out of money.  She is a compulsive over-eater.

Both of those women suffer from an eating disorder. Both also suffer from body dysmorphia. It is estimated that 10-15% of people in the U.S. suffer from some type of eating disorder.

And many of these individuals also experience some form of body dysmorphia. That is, those who are objectively very thin perceive themselves at fat and nothing can convince them otherwise. Thus they will diet, purge, use laxatives, and excessively exercise in order to keep off imaginary fat and pounds. Those that are objectively overweight do not see themselves as such. Thus they may continue to eat pizzas and squeeze themselves into bikinis. All folks experiencing an eating disorder, with or without dysmorphia, obsess about their weight and become compulsive in their behavior. Weight issues are constantly on their mind.

There are several factors that contribute to the development of an eating disorder: genetic factors, social factors, and psychological factors. All three must be addressed if we are going to understand and treat these disorders.

Genetic factors: Genetics clearly play a part in predisposing individuals to being fat, skinny, or average body type. Some people will be genetically predisposed to putting on weight while others will burn off fat. No matter how much they eat, they do not gain weight. While for others, the reverse is true; no matter how little they eat, the pounds accumulate. Just look at family history; some families are simply heavier than others while other are downright skinny.

Social factors: We live in a media controlled world where thin is in. Models, starlets, Revlon, L’Oreal, and any number of other beauty supply and diet companies, are all promoting a certain look. And the “look” is always focused on some thin, athletic model. The message is always if you are thin you are beautiful. And the thinner the better. Those that are predisposed to being thin (ectomorphic) will want to be the thinnest possible. And those who are predisposed to being fatter will throw in the towel recognizing that they will never be like the models promoted by the media; they simply give up and become fatter. The media seldom promotes moderation and health without focusing on a thin body type. When the media promoting beauty is combined with media promoting the fast food industry, the result is that those folks with the propensity for gaining weight will migrate in that direction. Those with the propensity for thinness will migrate toward being super thin.

Furthermore, many people are concerned with fitting in their social circle. Young people in particular want to look like, dress like, and eat like everyone around them. If they are fat in a skinny crowd they at least want to eat like everyone else. If they feel different from others in their group, they at least want to be as thin or thinner than the crowd. They simply want to feel a sense of OK-ness at least in one area of their life.

Psychological factors: Most compulsive behaviors develop as an individual attempts to gain control of their world. These behaviors also serve to mitigate pain; in a sense they are self-medicating. If a youngster feels anxious, fearful, powerless. overwhelmed, lonely, to name a few common childhood experiences, the youngster may discover a degree of comfort in repetitive behavior. Repetitive behavior has predictable results and thereby feels comforting.

People who develop eating disorders frequently experience childhood as overwhelming. They often experience their parents as anxious and controlling  with excessively high performance expectations; often the child was given responsibilities beyond their developmental level. Some children were not given either appropriate or sufficient early soothing resulting in their having to learn techniques for self-soothing, e.g., turning to food for soothing.  In all of these circumstances eating can become the behavior of choice. The child can control the amount, the type, the way they organize it, the order in which it is eaten, the number of chews before swallowing, how it sits on their plate. They can develop preferences and turn to food for comfort. They can develop rituals and schedules.  Their world can be narrowed down to one activity, one thought: food.

(Continued on next post: Understanding Eating Disorders (Part 2)

[Dr. Dreyfus is a nationally recognized clinical psychologist, relationship counselor, sex therapist, and life coach in the Santa Monica – Los Angeles area treating low sexual desire, premature ejaculation, sexual addictions, drug and alcohol abuse as well marriage and relationship communication and intimacy issues. The profits from his latest book, LIVING LIFE FROM THE INSIDE OUT along with his other five books, are being donated to Chrysalis: Changing Lives Through Jobs and Make A Wish Foundation.  All of his books are available on Amazon.com. Please become a fan on my Facebook Fan Page by indicating “like” on the page by clicking here. You can also find more tools to help you experience a more fulfilling life by clicking here to visit my website.]