To begin, we will talk about the main three eating disorders generally as I believe they have more similarities than differences. Eating disorders are bio-psycho-social illnesses, in that there are biological (medical, physiological and genetic factors), psychological (temperament, mood, anxiety, personality) and social (family dynamics, trauma experiences, societal influences such as the media, etc.) aspects to them. Briefly, eating disorders can be conceptualized as a person’s struggle to identify, connect with and/or express feelings. The client does not experience a sense of agency in multiple areas of his/her life and thus does not feel as though he/she has a voice, letting the body (or symptoms) speak for him/her instead. As stated in multiple literatures, the experiences held in the body (covert) become the client’s unspoken voice via the eating disorder symptoms (overt).
Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Binge-eating Disorder are the three most commonly seen and treated eating disorders. Anorexia typically manifests as a client restricting his/her food intake drastically, and is often accompanied by a pre-occupation with exercise. Bulimia involves episodes of binge-eating (eating an amount of food unusually greater than an average meal), followed by episodes of purging (emesis) or other compensatory behaviors (restricting, laxatives, exercising excessively, etc.). Binge-eating disorder involves binge-eating episodes without any compensatory behaviors to follow. The obsession with food, body image, and a general sense of self-loathing and feeling out of control tend to accompany all three.
To conclude, hopefully I have shown that eating disorders are complex and about so much more than divorce in the family. Thus, DIVORCE DOES NOT CAUSE EATING DISORDERS. However, if you are experiencing divorce and do not encourage your children to have a voice, and to experience and express their feelings openly and without judgment, there is a greater chance of your child developing an eating disorder immediately or in the long term. Parents and other involved loved ones can engage in protective or harmful behaviors toward these children when in the midst of the unfortunate pain and chaos of divorce. Like recovery from an eating disorder, it is a choice.
I am a licensed marriage and family therapist, lead therapist of La Ventana Treatment Programs’ Eating Disorder Programs in Thousand Oaks, CA, and a private practice clinician at The New Beginnings Center in Camarillo, CA. Please, feel free to reach out if you have any questions or concerns. Thank you!