The Reactions Of Eating Disorders And How It Affects Cognitive Development

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For as long as anyone could remember, there has always been this issue when it comes down to body image and the way we view ourselves from it. Individuals’ genes, race, sexuality, sexual orientation, culture, and societal standards all have a major connection from this idea and why it’s been the same for so long. The way that this issue has come about has spiked up globally and has affected so many people, especially when these people are just kids. These kids are simply trying to learn and figure out who they want to be and it doesn’t make anything easier when all these factors are stacked upon them. It gets to the point kids conform and become the way they think they should be, instead of being who they want to be. Negative eating habits develop, causing changes in them physically and mentally to the point it carries with them as they venture off into adulthood.

When people are still in adolescence, their brains are still developing and maturing to later become that adult we all strive to be as a kid. Their behavioral, cognitive, and mental processes are all correlated when it comes down to whom they identify themselves as and if the brain is still maturing, that means some of those mental processes can be altered and change the way they view certain things and especially, the way they view themselves. This idea is a common thread when it comes to people with eating disorders. Laurence Steinberg, a professor from Temple University in Philadelphia explained that “…there is considerable evidence that the second decade of life is a period of great activity with respect to changes in brain structure and function, especially in regions and systems associated with response inhibition, the calibration of risk and reward, and emotion regulation.”(ScienceDirect) It’s important to mention the background behind cognition and why it is so important to the developmental aspects to a person, but eating disorders itself do not occur towards people only in adolescence. It is just more commonly seen in these individuals at this age because of this time being the most influential part of their cognitive development and being the most fundamental part that can affect them for the rest of their life.

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There are six main types that professionals use to diagnose eating disorders: Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, pica, rumination disorder, and avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder. All are considered eating disorders because all have to do with consuming an unhealthy amount of food, whether if it was too much or not enough. There are many reasons people suffer from eating disorders, but a big reason people struggle with it and still do is because of standards set by society. Nowadays, all that is seen over advertisements, newspapers, modeling for certain clothing are this one body type that has been the stereotype since way before the 1950s; to be skinny. From 1959 to 1978, multiple psychologists studied the contestants and winners of Miss America, focusing on the different weights and standards placed beside the real world:

Within each group, we looked for changes across the 20 years as well as contrasts between these cultural prototypes of feminine beauty and population norms. We found that in both groups mean weights were significantly less than the corresponding population means published by the Society of Actuaries for each year. Thus, women selected as exemplars of feminine beauty were consistently thinner than the actual norms for comparable women in the population. (International Journal of Eating Disorders)

It’s not a surprise that there are more than one body type out there, but despite that, standards are still there and young women still think they have to change into someone they are not. It is a major problem that can affect anyone in society to the point it can keep them from being their best selves.

A fun thing to talk about that affects eating disorders as well is a person’s biological factors and specifically, what their genes have to do with it. There are different ways to explain this situation and it all comes down to when the person is first born. It’s rare, but a child can be born with an eating disorder if the child inherited it from their parents or if they have a twin that was born with it. Twins are very interesting in that sense because even if the twins are separated, they still have an equal chance of having it, whether if it is from birth or developed later in the future. A study by the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in Marburg, Germany discussed, “Most twin studies have shown a higher concordance rate for monozygotic twins than for dizygotic twins.”(Genomics in Health and Disease) Despite identical twins having more of a chance of inheriting the same thing in comparison to fraternal twins, twins as a whole have a much higher chance than someone who is not.

So, what was explained above was the whole idea behind eating disorders and who is affected by it, but what is very important to include is how it truly affects someone and how it changes their lives negatively. For two years, psychologists observed adolescent girls when it comes to binge eating and they have found that it causes “elevated dieting, pressure to be thin, modeling of eating disturbances, appearance overvaluation, body dissatisfaction, depressive symptoms, emotional eating, body mass, and low self-esteem and social support predicted binge eating onset with 92% accuracy…”(American Psychological Association) What is interesting is that all of what was reported from these teenagers matched up to all reasoning backed up in psychological and biological processes. In comparison, dancers have reported feeling the same way but for the opposite disorder, anorexia nervosa. For the most part, to be considered a true dancer they must follow vigorous body weight requirements and have to stay as thin as they can in sake for their career. “One report described the ballet world as possibly the most obsessively weight-conscious subculture in the country.”(Eating Disorders in Dancers)

Many things are to blame for the reason people suffer from eating disorders. It can get to the point it manifests into something that affects their lives negatively that can take a long time to get out of. Some people experience it their whole life, and some people experience it for a few months, but the point is this idea is a problem that can affect anyone and it shouldn’t be as bad as it is now. Many people have spent their entire lives learning more about psychology and people’s mental processes but in the end if it weren’t for biology and biological factors itself, we wouldn’t have as much of an understanding of eating disorders as we do now and how these disorders can impact someone mentally from all the way to being an adult.

Works Cited

  1. Baker, Jessica H., et al. “Genetic Risk Factors for Eating Disorders.” The Wiley Handbook of Eating Disorders, 2015, pp. 367–378., doi:10.1002/9781118574089.ch28.
  2. Schnitt, Jerome, and Diana Schnitt. “Medical Problems of Performing Artists.” Eating Disorders in Dancers, June 1986, doi:10.21091/mppa.2016.0000.
  3. Schwartz, Donald M., et al. “Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia: The Socio-Cultural Context.” International Journal of Eating Disorders, vol. 1, no. 3, 1982, pp. 20–36., doi:10.1002/1098-108x(198221);2-8.
  4. Steinberg, Laurence. “Cognitive and Affective Development in Adolescence.” Trends in Cognitive Sciences, vol. 9, no. 2, 2005, pp. 69–74., doi:10.1016/j.tics.2004.12.005.
  5. Stice, Eric, et al. “Risk Factors for Binge Eating Onset in Adolescent Girls: A 2-Year Prospective Investigation.” Health Psychology, vol. 21, no. 2, 2002, pp. 131–138., doi:10.1037//0278-6133.21.2.131.


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