To what extent can eating disorders be explained
by psychological factors?
Eating disorder is a condition where there is a serious disruption of healthy eating habits or appetite. The most commonly known eating disorders are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Anorexia is characterised by the pursuit of extreme thinness and by an extreme loss of weight and bulimia by secret binge eating followed by vomiting, misuse of laxatives, diuretics and excessive exercise in order to lose weight. There are two kinds of explanations of eating disorders: biological and psychological.
Biological explanations fall into two pieces: genetic inheritance and biochemical dysfunction of neurotransmitters in the brain. The genetic explanation is reductionist as it ignores the role of nurture. The concordance rate found by Holland et al. in the monozygotic twins study was 55%; however, the researchers omitted the fact that siblings usually share the same environment. The biochemical explanations are oversimplified as well. They do not take into account the main psychological factors that must be significant because anorexics do feel hungry, and nevertheless, they refuse to eat. Moreover, it is not easy to tell whether the biochemical changes are the cause or the consequence of the disorder.
Psychological models of eating disorders divide into behavioural, cognitive and psychodynamic explanations. Behavioural explanations suggest that contemporary media promotes the message that ‘slim is beautiful’. Classical conditioning suggests that slimming becomes a habit through stimulus-response mechanisms. The dieting person is complimented and they learn to associate being slim with feeling good about themselves. Admiration from others reinforces the dieting. Cross-cultural studies confirm this view because they show that eating disorders are more prevalent in industrialised societies.
Cognitive explanation focuses on irrational beliefs some people hold that they cannot be...