City Research Online

Eating disorders: between people

Kalinowski, Katherine (2015). Eating disorders: between people. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City University London)


The National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has suggested that 1.6 million people in the UK are affected by eating disorders (NICE, 2004). Generally speaking, eating disorders have major physical, psychological and social consequences (Hjern et al., 2006), often characterized by a poor quality of life (De la Rie et al., 2007)and a high health burden (Mond et al., 2009). Furthermore, anorexia nervosa has the highest rate of mortality of any psychiatric disorder, due to both medical complications associated with the disorder and suicide (BEAT, 2014). This statistic alone is indicative of the vitality of eating disorder research particularly that focused on treatment and prevention.

Though the ‘poor quality of life’ and ‘high health burden’ are attributed to the individual sufferer, these adverse complications often seep into the immediate family, including children (Stitt & Rupert, 2014). The majority of studies in this field have explored the impact of parental eating disorders on their children; with a focus on the quantitative relationship between the maternal eating disorder and child development, birth weight and feeding logistics (Stitt & Rupert, 2014). The mother’s subjective experience has been widely neglected.

Linville et al. have explored the sociocultural influences on the development of eating] disorders. Their evidence suggested that the parents, as the primary socialization agents to their children, significantly influence the development of body image disturbances and disordered eating (Linville et al., 2011). Familial eating disorder pathology has long been a source of ongoing investigation, as studies have consistently indicated that the immediate relatives of individuals with anorexia nervosa show an increased risk of developing an eating disorder themselves (Watkins, Cooper & Lask, 2012). Though the degree of correlation pertaining to genetic and environmental influence is unclear, the link itself is consistent and compelling (Lilenfeld & Kaye, 1998).

This chapter will consider the literature surrounding mothers’ experiences of feeding her children while having a disordered relationship with food. First I will consider the impact that parental psychiatric disorders have on their children, specifically, the relationship between maternal eating disorders and child development. I will then review the evidence that characterizes the children of mothers with eating disorders as a ‘at risk’ population.Previous research has identified a number of difficulties that mothers with eating disorders encounter within their parenting role; these will be explored, with a particular focus on the mothers’ subjective experience of feeding their children. And finally, the literature on the transgenerational transmission of eating disorders from mother to child will be reviewed. Treatment options will be contemplated, with a view to creating interventions specifically tailored to mothers with eating disorders and their families. A look forward in the direction of future research will be explored, specifically the effectiveness of family therapy for adults with eating disorders.

There is an uneven distribution in the literature of research focused on the quantitative impact of maternal eating disorders on children and the risk of transmission. This bias manifests in an unsaturated body of evidence exploring the mothers’ experience. The current chapter will reflect this disproportionate emphasis and attend to both the majority and minority perspectives. This literature review will illuminate the need for more qualitative research, exploring the mothers’ experience of being a parent while having an eating disorder, specifically, her subjective account of engaging in the function of feeding her children.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
Doctoral Theses
School of Health & Psychological Sciences > School of Health & Psychological Sciences Doctoral Theses
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