the way out is not necessarily the way in

"I was wondering, would you argue that eds are 100% genetic/biological?"

This is an excellent question.

I don't think anyone knows, really. I believe the mental illness we call "eating disorder" is largely mechanical, but that disordered eating can be influenced by a lot of things. I think a lot of people do disordered eating without having the mental illness and that people can have the mental illness without currently engaging in disordered eating, if that makes sense. We must stop confusing "Eating Disorder" with "disordered eating."

Disordered eating patterns seem to trigger the mental illness for some people - those with a predisposition. Some people need a LOT of disordered eating/stressors to get tipped over, some are like the fairy tale where the princess is fated or driven to find the spindle no matter what her parents do to prevent it. Once over into the mental illness I think the process is largely biological and neither reachable nor usefully explained by logical or psychological means.

That's why I don't think the psychological arguments have much relevance. If you can become deathly ill from an eating disorder from a single incident or a lifetime of pain then the way out probably isn't the way you got in.

I think it is insulting to those trying to recover from an eating disorder to mistake their anguish and bravery with the garden variety body distress that we (cruelly and wrongly) experience in most of society. It's qualitatively and quantitatively not even comparable, in my opinion. That is why all this discussion of "loving your body" and "size zero models' and "drive for thinness" misses the point. Once you are in, the door you need to use to get out isn't even near the one you stumbled in through.

The REST of us need those messages, surely, but the patient really just needs US to get it and live it so when the patient's brain recovers they live in a world that doesn't make bulimia and anorexia seem normal.


  1. I agree with a lot of what you write here Laura, and when I used to make videos on YT (which I stopped for personal reasons) I made a video on both the issues you raise in the post:

    1. Disordered eating vs. eating disorder.

    I suggested that the primary difference between the two is that in an ED the person becomes totally stuck in a dangerous pattern of eating/exercise/purging behaviours. Many people have disordered eating (after all, what is 'normal' eating?...), but they are either able to change their eating behaviours without experiencing terrible anxiety, or their disordered eating is not causing them damage or distress.

    2. 'Love you body' programmes - like the Dove programme that is endorsed by the likes of Susie Orbach.

    Utterly futile (IMO) and based upon the assumption that what drives an ED is body dissatisfaction. Nope. What drives an ED is obsessive-compulsive and/or addictive behaviours. Loads of people of body dissatisfaction but no ED. And quite a few people with ED don't have body dissatisfaction.

  2. *Love YOUR body programmes* sorry...

    I didn't get the picture though... but I like the pattern :)

  3. Cathy, it's a "Chinese Finger Trap." You slip your fingers into both ends and then try to get them back out. The harder you pull, the tighter it holds you. The only way to get out is counterintuitive: press in.

    The analogy to EDs and anxiety is that pulling away or avoidance just holds you tighter. Except with anxiety and EDs it is your head that you're sticking in the trap and it muffles the sound of everyone giving you instructions on how to get out!

  4. I like the analogy... and I'm terribly slow brained sometimes :D

  5. I love what you wrote: "Once you are in, the door you need to use to get out isn't even near the one you stumbled in through."

  6. Wow, Laura, you never cease to blow my mind. You have the rare ability to understand and COMMUNICATE so that others can really visualize and understand your thoughts and messages.. Your Chinese handcuff analogy is so demonstrative and rings true to me..

  7. To the question "are eating disorders 100% genetic/biological?"

    Well...probably very little is 100% genetic, or rather the idea that something could be 100% genetic is probably false, because we swim in the sea of our environment and interact with it and it with us on a molecular level as well as on an everyday level. So the building blocks of our genes are surrounded by a halo or coating of sulfur molecules and others (the epigenetic cloud) which suppress, enhance, turn on and turn off those genes.

    As for 100% biological.... what would the opposite of biological be? We are entirely biological organisms/beings..... so yes, in my opinion, our illnesses are also biological. How could it be otherwise?

  8. I have made the same argument in Julie O'Toole's last paragraph on my own blog before. I believe that humans are purely biological entities (I accept that some people believe there is a spiritual element, but I'm an atheist), and therefore it is pure logic that mental illnesses are biological in origin. I suppose if someone is working from a different initial assumption (such as humans having a soul, or consciousness being more than the sum of the parts of the brain in some other way), they might come to a different conclusion. But I'm just an ex-anorexic who has thought about it all too much, so I don't know how valid my opinion is ;)


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