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Dr Shelagh Wright - Systemic and Family Psychotherapist and Family Mediator

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What Are Eating Disorders?

The term ‘eating disorder' actually refers to several different conditions that have in common a disturbance in attitude toward food, weight, or shape. There are many different symptoms, varying in severity and impact on psychological and physical; functioning. The most familiar of the eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, and bulimia nervosa, although most people suffer from partial syndromes.

It is difficult to gauge recovery from these illnesses but good indicators would include; maintenance of a healthy weight, having less concern around food and weight and an improvement in mood and relationships. There is a strong risk for relapse and out patient treatment needs to be thought of as a long term process over several years. Early and appropriate treatment is the key to full recovery.

Why Does Someone Develop An Eating Disorder?

People often think an eating disorder is nothing more than a 'silly fad'. Indeed anorexia nervosa can be seen to be like an extreme form of dieting which is self imposed and easily reversible. It is not surprising that many people cannot understand later why the situation becomes out of control. Unlike ‘normal' dieters who stop once they have lost weight, people with anorexia nervosa go on and on. They often believe that all their problems will disappear; or that they will feel happier; or that their friends will like them better; if only they can lose a little more weight. The result is a downward spiral in terms of weight loss and physical health, and a growing distortion in the way they see themselves and feel about themselves. An eating disorder offers the sufferer a solution at least for a while to their problems.

Predisposing Factors


  • Differences in blood flow from the left to right side of the brain
  • Delayed gastric emptying
  • Zinc levels


  • Perfectionistic (AN)
  • Chaotic (BN)
  • Low self esteem
  • Eager to please


  • MZ twins 56% heritability
  • DZ twins & first relative 5% heritability

Against a back drop of cultural and media pressure to be thin.

This makes a person vulnerable to the development of an eating disorder.

Precipitating Factors

  • Puberty
  • Bullying
  • Abuse
  • Parental conflict
  • Change in school
  • Family conflict
  • Friendship difficulties
  • Death of a pet
  • Death of a loved one
  • Moving house
  • Divorce
  • Romantic relationship issues

Perpetuating Factors

Precipitating factors continuing.

The response to the illness behaviours that does not challenge the behaviour.

Recovery in Three Stages

Recovery from anorexia nervosa can be thought of as being mapped out in three stages.

Eating Disorders Audio