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Eating disorders and the theory of attachment

There are many factors that can influence a persons susceptibility to mental health and eating disorders. The theory of attachment, which concerns a childs relationship with their parents at a young age, could partially explain how certain people are more likely to develop compulsive eating disorders at some point during their life.

Media and social fashions play a large part in the onset of compulsive eating disorders such as Bulimia and Anorexia Nervosa. What is also becoming clearer to medical practitioners specialising in this area is that the type of character who is more likely to be affected by this condition can be traced back to the early childhood of the individual. Attachment theory fundamentally states that a child’s character and behaviour in social situations can be determined by the parental relationships formed in early childhood. If the child has a strong healthy bond with their mother and father it is likely he or she will grow up to have a good self-worth, self-respect, and feel safe in exploring the world and creating strong external social relationships. When that foundation has not been made the child grows without these advantages and may turn to eating in an obsessive way to affect a balance.

How can compulsive eating disorders affect a balance?

To understand why some individuals turn to obsessive eating you need to look at how the absence of good parental bonding and input at an early age is likely to affect a child’s functioning. Medical practitioners believe that the attachment response formed in humans is a survival instinct. It encourages people to make strong fruitful relationships with people at times of stress and trauma, and so affect individual safety. It therefore follows that when the attachment system fails, it is likely the child will feel intense levels of stress, aloneness, and inner emptiness. When these feelings become intolerable the individual attempts to fill that emptiness and they sometimes find that food is a temporary answer. The other pay-off the sufferer will feel when eating excessively or restricting their diet is an illusion of control which is inherent in most addictions. When faced with stress, fear and loneliness, the extreme eating boundaries that the sufferer puts around their intake makes the patient with compulsive eating disorder feel more in control of their environment.

Hope for sufferers of eating disorders

Linking this illness with this complex area suggests that is not easy to deal with – you are who you are. But this understanding of the intrinsic nature of this illness can give therapists a springboard into assisting sufferers deal with and eventually overcome their issues. Through skilled psychotherapy these issues can be confronted, and the individual can learn how the past has affected them and with a clearer understanding of what has gone before, they can look to re-build on their inner self.

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To discuss how the Life Works team can help to support individuals and families dealing with an eating disorder or for further information on treatment programmes, please call: 01483 745 066 or click here to make an enquiry.

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