Throughout history, body image has been determined by society and culture . In the western world, this image has acquired such a fundamental value that since the last decades of the 20th century a total cult of the body has been practiced.

It is in this context that some of the most devastating pathologies of the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century have emerged, such as eating disorders (TCA) .

Eating behavior

Eating behavior is shaped from the beginning of life. It is through the interactions of the child and the food with the environment that certain eating habits are created .

It is important that the child learns to distinguish the different physiological signs such as hunger, satiety or self-regulation of intake, creating an appropriate eating behavior, defined as, the normal behavior related to eating habits, food intake, amounts, frequency…

Children usually integrate eating habits and practices around the age of 5 , creating different ways and preferences of eating. Mothers, fathers and caregivers play a fundamental role in educating healthy eating patterns, which function as protective factors against future risks.

Eating Disorders (ED)

Eating disorders are characterized by pathological behavior related to an abnormal pattern of food intake on the one hand, and an obsession with keeping body weight under control on the other .

They involve complex mental disorders, mainly affecting adolescents and young women. These pathologies are characterized by the severity of the associated symptoms, high resistance to treatment and risk of relapse .

The World Health Organization (WHO) has placed ACTs among the priority mental illnesses for children and adolescents because of the health risk they pose.
The best known ATDs are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, but there are others, such as binge eating disorder, or drunkorexia.

Types of TCA

The main types of eating disorders are

1. Anorexia Nervosa

Thixagemia is a disorder characterized by self-induced or self-maintained weight loss . An intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat appears.

The person feels overweight despite being underweight. The methods used to lose weight are manipulation of the diet, exercise (75%), and induced vomiting (20%).

2. Bulimia Nervosa

It is characterized by an exaggerated concern for body image and by repeated episodes of excessive food intake ; as a result, the person takes drastic measures to compensate for the compulsive intake.

The patient presents with recurrent binges, feelings of loss of control, and inappropriate compensatory behaviors (self-induced vomiting; laxatives, diuretics, enemas or other medications; fasting; excessive exercise)

3. Binge Eating Disorder

Like bulimia nervosa, this disorder is characterized by compulsive and recurrent eating. The main difference is that the person does not engage in compensatory behaviours (laxatives, fasting, vomiting…).

One of the most common consequences is weight gain or obesity, along with the associated risks (diabetes, cholesterol, etc).

4. Drunkorexia

Drinkingorexia, or ebriorexia, is a new eating problem; people who have it stop eating to try to make up for the calories they take in with alcohol. In addition to the dangers of anorexia, there are those of consuming this drug .

The severity of the disorder will depend, on one hand, on the degree of alcohol addiction, and on the other, on the severity of the anorexia.

Risk Factors

Risk factors make it easy for any type of disorder, including ACT, to occur.

  • Individual factors: family history; personality traits; low self-esteem; negative body image, etc.
  • Family factors: lack of family structure; controlling and demanding environment; stressful life experiences, etc.
  • Social factors: unrealistic canon of beauty; media demands; sports or activities, etc.

Protection and Treatment Factors

According to Isabel Sánchez Montero, a psychologist from the psychologists’ office in Málaga PsicoAbreu, promoting a positive body image and good self-esteem is one of the main objectives for the prevention and treatment of ACT. In addition, there are several factors to consider.

1. The media

The media are an instrument of great influence on aspects related to the health of the population and, very especially, to eating disorders.

Therefore, something very important in the prevention of this type of disorder is the collaboration with the media in order to promote a realistic and healthy image.

2. Personal empowerment

There are authors who propose that an important point in prevention would be to enhance socio-cultural influences and to recognize the importance of self-esteem, self-control and strength of these people.

3. Teamwork

The treatment that ATDs require is developed within a multidisciplinary team, made up of different specialists: doctors, psychologists, nurses, educators, etc. The objectives of the psychological treatment go through:

  • Assist in the standardization of weight.
  • Family counselling.
  • Learning healthy eating habits .
  • Educating in emotions (recognizing, regulating and expressing emotions in an appropriate way).
  • Learn to contact and transit painful private events (thoughts, emotions, physical sensations).
  • Recognize avoidance patterns and develop effective coping guidelines.
  • Preventing relapses .

Seeking Help for Eating Disorders

The Málaga PsicoAbreu team of psychologists specializes in the effective psychological treatment of eating disorders. All its professionals work to provide individualised attention that adapts to the characteristics of each person, placing special emphasis on the quality of the therapeutic relationship, accompaniment and the guarantees of the intervention. To see the contact details of this psychology centre, click here.