The Influence of Family Functioning on Eating Disorders
Understanding the etiology of an eating disorder is perhaps the most complicated issue surrounding the disease, as teasing apart cause and consequence can be extremely difficult. This problem becomes immediately apparent when examining family factors associated with eating disorders. Research over the past decade has focused largely on identifying family factors that potentially contribute to the development of an eating disorder in an individual, and further refining these characteristics into prototypes for the “anorexic family” or the “bulimic family.” Identifying a pattern of specific family risk factors would be an extremely useful tool in recognizing those
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Conversely, bulimia is generally marked by the maintenance of a normal weight, engaging in recurrent episodes of binge eating that are often followed by purging or some other form of inappropriate compensatory behavior. These compensatory measures can include self-induced vomiting, laxative or diuretic use, or excessive exercise. Bulimics also tend place extreme importance on body shape and weight in self-evaluations (Walsh & Garner, 1997). Such differences in symptomology certainly warrant the prediction that, if indeed family influences play a role in the development of eating disorders, there will be discrepancies in family patterns among anorexics and bulimics. The literature indicates that this is, in fact, the case on measures of family climate, interaction, and characteristics. While it may be premature to claim the existence of an “anorexic family” or a “bulimic family,” there are some stable traits that consistently emerge, indicating a possibility of eventually identifying some specific family risk factors for anorexia and bulimia.
An early study by Johnson and Flach (1985) attempted to describe general family characteristics of bulimic women as compared to age-matched women not suffering from any eating disorders. A group of 105 subjects meeting DSM-III criteria for bulimia completed several questionnaires, including the