Interpersonal Factors Influencing Eating Disorders
Interpersonal factors or those that involve other individuals and society at large, seem to play a role in influencing the development of, and the recovery from, eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder.
Regardless of the behaviours associated with a particular eating disorder, underlying issues such as low self esteem, low self confidence and feelings of being overwhelmed and out of control are common throughout them all. These feelings often spill over into social interactions, making factors such as poor communication (especially in regards to expressing feelings), troubled personal relationships and ineffective coping strategies common to influencing eating disorders.
Poor CommunicationIndividuals who are unable to communicate clearly and effectively often prefer to hold in their emotions, sometimes described as “swallowing” their emotions. This is particularly true of negative emotions such as anger, sadness or disappointment.
Rather than confront another individual with these emotions, many individuals choose to remain silent but express their feelings and frustrations in other ways, including through abnormal eating disorders.
Some individuals also keep quiet but end up convincing themselves that they were the cause of the problem in the first place. This can lead to negative self-talk such as telling themselves that they are stupid or always cause problems. Either way, when emotions are not expressed but instead are projected onto food and eating behaviours, an eating disorder can result.
Troubled Personal RelationshipsWhether troubled personal relationships result from poor communication or poor communication results from troubled personal relationships, is immaterial, the fact of the matter remains that the two often develop hand in hand with an eating disorder.
More than simply inhibiting communication, however, troubled relationships also often serve to convince an individual that (s)he is unlovable, deeply flawed and unworthy of positive attention. To cope with this, frustrations may again be projected onto food and eating behaviours, particularly if an individual falls into the trap of thinking that if (s)he could just lose a little more weight then (s)he would be able to find, or be worthy of having, a loving relationship. Unfortunately, those with eating disorders may not simply engage in trouble with personal relationships of the romantic kind, but friendships and family relationships as well.
Ineffective Coping StrategiesWhen individuals are frustrated, angry, discouraged or sad they use a variety of coping strategies to get through the tough times. For many individuals this means engaging in a favoured activity, spending time with favoured friends and family or enjoying solitary time in which they can pull themselves together.
For those who suffer from eating disorders, however, very often these coping strategies are actually their abnormal eating behaviours. Without any other behaviours to fall back on to get them through a rough patch, indulging their skewed views of food and eating help them feel as though they have retained some control on their lives. Sadly, and without even realising it, many of these individuals actually end up harming their health and the quality of their lives through what they believe are effective coping strategies.
Interpersonal factors such as poor communication skills, troubled personal relationships and ineffective coping skills have all been linked to eating disorders. Though these factors are not formal causes of eating disorders they have been seen to influence the development of them and inhibit recovery from them.
For further information on interpersonal factors and eating disorders, contact a GP, private mental health professional or from the Eating Disorders Association and/or National Centre for Eating Disorders.