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Eating Disorders and self-Esteem

Research on Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa has yielded an increasingly detailed understanding of the range of biological and psychological abnormalities associated with these eating disorders. Inherited vulnerabilities, cultural pressures, and adverse individual and family experiences all appear to contribute to the onset of extreme dieting, binge eating, and purging. Once initiated, these behaviors give rise to multiple physiological disturbances, which may perpetuate the illness. Although there have been substantial advances in the management of Bulimia Nervosa, the goal of offering effective treatment to all individuals with eating disorders remains elusive.

Eating disorders (ED) are a significant mental health problem because of their overall prevalence, especially in children and adolescents. In addition, low self-esteem is considered, along with others, one of the risk factors for developing these disorders, without clarifying the real impact of low self-esteem on the development of ED.

Low self-esteem occurs commonly in patients with an eating disorder. This term includes patients with both anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Thus, eating disorders can best be viewed as a 'symptom' of chronic low self-esteem.

The individual tries to gain a sense of self-control through food and exercise since this is the only aspect of their life they can control. Engaging in binging, extreme dieting, purging, or other obsessive behaviors can be caused by body image and weight loss. They attempt to "self-treat" their lack of control in other aspects of their lives.

The obsessions of binging and purging are brought on by low self-esteem, fear, and anxiety. Therefore, an individual will binge, purge or exercise excessively to temporarily relieve these unhealthy emotions and feelings until feelings of self-blame and guilt follow. Unfortunately, this vicious cycle of fear and anxiety followed by temporary feelings of relief and calmness are soon replaced by feelings of self-guilt. This cycle of emotions repeats itself repeatedly until the eating disorder becomes so self-destructive that either the individual realizes they need help, or a severe medical complication occurs.

Early Signs of an Eating Disorder:

Anyone can develop an eating disorder at any age. Psychological symptoms of an eating disorder can almost always be detected if you know what to look for. Many eating disorders start as "just a diet." You want to eat healthier, lose a little weight, or become more fit. While your intentions may start as reasonable or innocent, even positive, they can quickly spiral into these kinds of thoughts and behaviors.

For example:

  • Seeing some foods as "good" and others as "bad."

  • Feeling incredibly guilty for eating foods deemed "bad."

  • Eating the same foods all the time.

  • Becoming unwilling to try new foods.

  • Bringing your food to events that provide food.

  • Feeling compelled to know the calorie content of everything you eat.

  • There is a feeling of obligation to use a calorie counting app and religiously log everything you eat.

  • Measure/weigh out all of your food.

  • Become rigid about mealtimes.

  • Become strict about where you eat, what kind of silverware you have, etc.


Eating disorders are not a choice. These disorders can affect a person's physical and mental health. In some cases, they can be life-threatening. With treatment, however, people can recover completely from eating disorders.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) applies to all eating disorders. Still, it has been most intensively studied in bulimia nervosa (BN) treatment. CBT is designed to alter abnormal attitudes about body shape and weight, replace dysfunctional dieting with regular eating habits, and develop coping skills for resisting binge eating and purging. CBT effectively reduces all core features of BN and shows good maintenance of therapeutic improvement.

Even though eating disorders can affect anyone at any age, adolescents and young women are the most likely to be affected. For example, up to 13% of youth may develop an eating disorder by the time they are 20.

Author: Dana Papania, Counseling Practicum Student


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