Eating disorders affect millions of individuals worldwide and can cause severe disturbances in an individual’s eating behaviors.  An individual can become obsessed with food or weight, yet the reasons that one might develop an eating disorder are complex.  There is one such theory that has received research support about how someone develops an eating disorder.

Insecure Attachment

Insecure attachment is a risk factor for the development of an eating disorder.  Attachment has to do with how an infant seeks those around them for support and nurturance.  If an infant experiences secure attachment, they will likely grow up feeling safe and optimistic and have the capacity for emotional regulation.  They also look at the world in a more positive light and feel worthy of the love from others.

Insecure attachment occurs when an infant does not get the support and nurturance from caregivers.  An insecurely attached individual will doubt the availability and support of others and exhibit insecure patterns of behavior.  The child learns to adopt strategies for dealing with threats and negative emotions.  

Anxious persons expect abandonment, separation, and are preoccupied with the availability of others.  Avoidant persons deny attachment needs and suppress attachment related thoughts and feelings.  Avoidant persons are self-reliant and avoid intimate relationships, as they undervalue the importance of supportive relationships.

The habits of these individuals formed in childhood do play out in adulthood.  As adults, individuals with insecure attachment will treat new partners the same way they caretakers did.  The individual will transfer their troubles to their new relationships.

Distorted thinking patterns will leave the insecure person vulnerable to distress, which can be a risk factor for self-destructive behaviors such as addiction and eating disorders.  Individuals may be self-medicated due to the chronic feelings of psychic pain from the past.  Eating and weight related concerns are methods of directing emotions outward to compensate for feelings of insignificance, vulnerability, and helplessness.  For some individuals with anorexia nervosa, focusing on their body helps them to feel in control of their world, primarily when everything else seems out of control.

Eating disorders typically begin in adolescence.  An eating disorder begins as a task to achieve modest weight reduction.  This usually is met with a positive response from others, but over time the positive feelings become associated with weight loss.  The coping strategy is used to confront the negative emotions, which becomes habit.  The act of dieting then becomes a rewarding experience.

Research shows that an individual’s attachment system can be changed, and a sense of security can be restored.  If you or someone you know, has an eating disorder, please call Hired Power today (800) 910-9299.