When human psychological factors cause an illness, it is called psychosomatic – of the mind and of the body. Of all disorders an eating disorder is the epitome of a toxic relationship between psyche and soma, yet the body is our interface for navigating the world. Medical writer Jonathan Miller states: The body is the medium of experience and the instrument of action. Through its actions we shape and organize our experiences and perceptions of the outside world from the sensations that arrive within the body itself. [The body is] possessed by the person who has it, it also possesses and constitutes him (1978, p.14). In The Body Betrayed , Kathryn J. Zerbe (1993) explores how the psyche and soma become at war with each other, no longer unified in the process of sustaining life or effectively reaching out
into the world together, and how the body becomes hated. “Anorexic and bulimic individuals do not experience their minds, hearts, and bodies in unison” (p.22). She recalls the 1959 study by Rene Spitz wherein he observed the behavior of infants whose mothers gave birth while
incarcerated. The baby's basic needs of eating, cleaning and changing were met at a prison nursery but they were not cuddled and caressed. Spitz noted that the babies seemed to have given up hope and many died because their immune systems shut down. When the mothers were
allowed to “mother” them and instructed to hold them and caress them, the babies began responding and thriving. “They required the somatic infusion of bodily tenderness to reawaken their infant psyches with lifesustaining
hope and love” (Zerbe, 1993, p.23). This is a striking
explanation of how development can be blocked at a very early age, before the brain can comprehend or store in memory what is happening to the body, and perhaps gives insight into the severed or distorted personal development of an eating disordered client.
Many therapists in this field have come to the conclusion that the diagnostic categories of Anorexia, Bulimia, and Binge Eating Disorder are not effective for treatment processes. “The eating disorder is the symptom,” stated Psychologist Mark Schwartz, Clinical Director at
Harmony Place Monterey, “not the problem” (from source, 2010). He goes on to list the underlying issues that, of necessity, become the target symptoms for therapy: ObsessiveCompulsive Disorder, PostTraumatic
Stress Disorder, intimacy and attachment issues, current family dynamics, and general food addictions or allergies. Once these issues are addressed, as well as cooccurring disorders such as substance abuse, the eating disorder becomes less needed by the client for regulation. Lastly, replacing these habitual behaviors with healthy alternative forms of self-soothing and emotional regulation can give one hope of a fulfilling life in recovery. Dr. Schwartz explains that underneath this symptomatology usually lies difficulty in identity – having an insecure or unstable sense of self as well as anxiety about interacting with others in our complex society. Often there is a sense of perfectionism with its accompanying distress and overwhelming feelings of ineffectiveness about navigating challenges in new stages of development, for example puberty or adulthood. Allowing oneself to evolve by making mistakes and learning from them is blocked, and the eating disorder becomes one’s identity in that it serves as a ritualistic behavior to numb the distress of feeling empty and out of control.

Author's Bio: 

Mike Rechtien, MA, is a trained psychotherapist and a mindbodyspirit
life coach working with
individuals with eating disorders and other addictions at Harmony Place Monterey and
Monterey Institute of Mental Health .