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Eating Behaviours

7) Psychological Explanations for Bulimia Nervosa

Cognitive model

Developmental factors – Cooper said that many people who suffer from Bulimia have experienced trauma which those around them might not see. These individuals therefore conclude that they are not acceptable to those around them, so Cooper believes bulimics learn to diet to become thin and therefore acceptable to those around them.

Maintaining factors – Cooper said that bulimic patients experience a ‘vicious cycle”. They binge because they think it will make them happier, they then purge because they feel guilty about eating so much. This then leads to them feeling worthless, so to make themselves feel better they binge again.

The functional model – Polivy et al said people binge-eat as a way of coping with identity problems. He said this was because the bulimic can attribute any problems in their life to the binge eating, rather than having to deal with the actual root of the problem.

Evaluation of cognitive model

Leung et al found that a lack of bonding with a parent was linked to the development of the belief that you could be unacceptable to others, so a lack of parental bonding could be a cause of bulimia nervosa, and this supports the cognitive model.

Research has found CBT helps some bulimics but others still binge and purge, 50% were symptom free, but still37% had the eating disorder.

Also, gay men are the most likely group to suffer bulimia nervosa, Cooper’s work suggests this is because gay males are not yet fully accepted in society, so extreme dieting could be a result of them trying to fit in.

Relationship process

Anxious attachment in intimate relationships – Boskind-Lodahl said we are constantly anxious about attracting a mate, and it is when this anxiety increases we feel the need to diet. They said that this increases in bulimic people, which is why they feel the need to ‘diet’ so much.

Evaluation of relationship process

Evans and Wertheim found a relationship between anxious attachment style and bulimia nervosa as people try to lose weight and avoid rejection. This supports the link suggested by Boskind-Lodahl.

However, like much of the research in this area, this link has only been found as correlational and causation is yet to be proven. So we can’t say for sure that trying to change your appearance to attract a mate is a cause for bulimia nervosa.



About Sam Cook

A blog set up to help A Level students revise Sociology


One thought on “7) Psychological Explanations for Bulimia Nervosa

  1. It would be really helpful if there revision posts for Anorexia Nervosa 🙂 But all your notes are really helpful

    Posted by Hannah | April 15, 2013, 4:08 pm

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