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Eating Disorders

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Samantha Proctor 12 Ward Psychology Essay Outline and evaluate the psychological explanation of one or more eating disorders (18 marks) There are various explanations of eating disorders, both regarding anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Psychological explanations of anorexia nervosa include the psychodynamic approach, that is Freud's theory that eating substituted sexual activity, therefore acting as a means of repressing sexual thoughts and desires and to reduce sexual maturity. Starvation in adolescence acts as a means of halting the development of an adult body, restricting food can lead to the prevention of menstruation and the development of breasts and enlarged hips (secondary sexual characteristics). Thus, an adolescent is attempting to prevent their adulthood. Bruch (1980) suggested a more recent psychodynamic explanation which was that it may be poor parenting and a struggle for autonomy cause anorexia. This suggests that the origins of anorexia are found within early childhood. It may be that the Mother (or primary caregiver) did not respond adequately to the needs of her child. By doing so, this could lead to the child becoming more self-reliant and more sensitive to criticism from other people. In adolescence the conflicts between maternal dependence and the wish of the child for independence results in anorexia acting as a means of exerting self-control. ...read more.


The cognitive approach suggests that the reason why only some people develop anorexia is because only those with faulty belief systems are affected with anorexia as they do not "see" their excessive weight loss. Bemis- Vitousek and Orimoto (1993) pointed out some of the faulty cognitions that are typical of those with anorexia. A common cognition is that dieting is a means of the individual exerting control but at the same time many of the individuals who have anorexia are aware of the fact that they are out of control because they can't stop dieting even when they are aware of the fact it is damaging their health and/or threatening their lives. This is a maladaptive way of thinking. However, criticising this approach, it is not clear whether the maladaptive thinking is a cause or an effect of the illness. Once an individual has developed faulty cognitions these can act as a means of perpetuating the disorder. Positively criticising this approach are Garner and Bermis (1982) who point out that whatever the cause, the end result appears to always be the desire to be thin. Therapies based on tackling self-defeating statements and of repairing the faulty cognitions could focus on this. Psychological explanations of bulimia nervosa include the psychodynamic approach. ...read more.


Cooper and Taylor also found that individuals who had bulimia tended to have a distorted body image. This distorting then lead to the individual having a greater desire to lose weight. Vanderlinden et al (1992) suggested that individuals with bulimia tended to perceive events as more stressful than most people thus binge-purging acted as a means of gaining control over situations and of coping with the stress. However, this model does not suggest a cause or effect. On a more positive note, they may provide a means of treatment in order to break the binge-purge cycle. However, to summarise, each of these psychological explanations of eating disorders can be criticised in some way, primarily as they ignore the degree to which genetics have a role within such disorders. Genetics may have a greater basis. Kendler et al (1991) suggests that bulimia nervosas' heritability is 55% and Holland et al (1988) suggests an 80% heritability rate for anorexia nervosa. This would suggest that the psychological explanation is of less importance than the biological causes. However, it does not mean that the psychological explanation should be disregarded as unimportant in explaining the development of eating disorders. It is most likely that the diathesis-stress model explains the development of such disorders: the individual is born with a gene which makes them more vulnerable to such disorders and that a trigger (such as a stressor) sets off the disorder. ...read more.

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