Where Do Eating Disorders Come From?

Once the vicious cycle of an eating disorder has begun, it's hard to pinpoint an original cause. Counselors at Remuda Ranch and Sierra Tucson (inpatient treatment centers) often find that relatives of bulimics struggle with depression, manic-depressive disorders, alcoholism, or eating disorders themselves which suggests a possible genetic predisposition. Other psychiatrists follow the book and call it a disease.

The most recent version of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DMS-IV), published by the American Psychiatric Association, defines bulimia as recurrent episodes of binge eating, along with attempts to compensate for this behavior by purging, fasting or excessive exercising, at least twice a week. While this clinical definition is helpful when diagnosing the problem, it may lead some to look for a quick solution: a parent to blame it on, or a pill to take.

Others take a more head-on approach. Florence Wolfe, a Christian guidance counselor at a private Maryland high school for 17 years, has seen her share of eating disorders among students. Whether a student is toying with anorexia or immersed in bulimia, Wolfe says she has found that it all begins with a conscious choice. True, the culture screams "thin is in" at every turn, but ultimately we each have control over our own actions. Mrs. Wolfe prefers to start with the "honesty factor": When a woman is deliberately starving herself or bingeing and purging, she has begun lying to herself and deceiving her parents, boyfriend and anyone else who cares about her enough to object to anything that hurts her. Mrs. Wolfe encourages her students to take ownership of their own choices, and of the greed or gluttony involved in their behavior.

Taking ownership does not necessarily mean that a woman is to be condemned and punished for her choices. Often there are deep issues behind eating disorders: At the very least, her friends and parents may have pressured her to be thin. Worse, she may have been abused or traumatized, and is now living in fear and self-hatred. Still, the first step to recovery is finding a better way to deal with the pressures from others, or the abuse suffered or the lies of the culture. Self-abuse is not the answer.

If you're ready to admit and conquer your eating disorder or want to help someone else out of the cycle of anorexia or bulimia, the article "When a Diet Spins Out of Control" might help. TroubledWith.net and its sponsoring organization, Focus on the Family, also offer a one-time phone consultation with a licensed, professional counselor and referrals to counselors in your area. To find out more about counseling, visit our "Consider Counseling" page.

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