PHOTO: Alejandra Misiolek Marín
Text: Alejandra Misiolek Marín
The concepts of uninhibited or impulsive eating, emotional eating and food addiction are eating patterns that are based on eating in response to signals other than hunger and pleasure. These patterns often lead to overweight and obesity.
And where does it come from?
According to scientific studies, these patterns have their source in early childhood. Obesity among adults is more frequent if they had a traumatic or adverse childhood experience (Adverse Childhood Experience ACE, such as sexual abuse, dysfunctional family, parental separation, etc.). Whereas, of all eating disorders, Binge Eating Disorder is most frequently correlated with ACE. In addition, insecure attachment is associated with both biological and psychological processes that promote unhealthy eating, obesity and are related to higher BMI.
How can we understand it?
On the one hand, ACE creates an environment that does not validate the child and is often related to low parental responsiveness in early childhood. These circumstances cause insecure attachment style to develop. Insecure attachment style is related to the inability to set limits, high emotional dependence on others, need to seek acceptance, and the inability to emotionally self-regulate. In addition, to make things more complicated, it often co-occurs with difficulty in postponing gratification and the need to get it immediately, a trait that is related to high impulsivity.
What would be an example of this?
In a qualitative study of obese adolescent girls (13-16 years old) it has been possible to show that they grew up in situations of family conflict (ACE) in which they took on the role of caregivers (role-reversal) and had to relinquish their own emotional vulnerabilities. All study participants used food to seek comfort and emotional regulation. We often use external forms of emotional regulation (such as food or other substances) when we have not internalized (in childhood) healthier self-regulatory strategies because they have not been available (our caregivers have not taught us to use them).
And what would be the role of body image?
The need for approval that is inherent in insecure attachment becomes the force that increases vulnerability to social norms and influences body dissatisfaction. The person with insecure attachment does not feel satisfied with their body image, and uses overeating as their way of calming anxiety, thus entering a vicious cycle of negative emotions and negative body image that are the basis of eating disorders.
Maunder, R. G., Hunter, J. J., & Le, T. L. (2017). Insecure attachment and trauma in obesity and bariatric surgery. In Psychiatric Care in Severe Obesity (pp. 37-48). Springer, Cham.