Talking to people with anorexia nervosa, I noticed that some of them have actually much bigger problems than their aforementioned condition.

In some cases it looked as if the person was spending daily an insane amount of time on food, having no time left to deal with other more serious issues in his life. Removing his anorexia, would leave him "helpless" against his real fear, so why would he want that? He would rather keep postponing facing his fear... indefinitely.


Are there any studies related to the above conditions being used by a person, as a way to divert his attention away from other events that are actually even more stressful?

I'm not implying that distraction is always the only (or even the main) reason these conditions appear; I'm simply wondering if they are sometimes used subconsciously as another anxiety management tool.

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    $\begingroup$ I think this will answer your question: eatingdisorderhope.com/treatment-for-eating-disorders/… $\endgroup$ – user3116 Jan 16 '17 at 17:13
  • $\begingroup$ @what Indeed. These findings suggest anxiety is a reason why someone develops anorexia, rather than a symptom of the eating disorder. along with [..]hypothesize anorexia is a subconscious way to deal with premorbid anxiety — that the anorexia helps control the anxiety. $\endgroup$ – user Jan 16 '17 at 18:54
  • $\begingroup$ @what you should post an answer based on that link. $\endgroup$ – user Jan 21 '17 at 14:18

If I'm understanding your question, you're wondering if anorexia nervosa is a symptom of other underlying problems in a person's life.

This is a current theory being supported by "Mental disorders as complex networks: An introduction and overview of a network approach to psychopathology" written by Nuijten et. al. The paper describes how instead of seeing a disorder as a single "latent variable" connecting all the symptoms, all the symptoms should just be considered as a network reinforcing themselves. This is demonstrated in the figure below taken from the paper:


For a discussion of the paper, see "Mental Disorders As Networks" by SlateStarCodex.

  • $\begingroup$ [...] is a symptom of other underlying problems - Exactly. If my question is unclear let me know what i should change, or you can edit it as well. I m not familiar with cognitive sciences' terminology (especially in english). (this message will be deleted in a few days) $\endgroup$ – user Jan 16 '17 at 9:42
  • $\begingroup$ @Fermiparadox I guess the only thing that was unclear in your question was your use of "divert" and "anxiety management tool" makes your question seem like you're saying it's a coping tool? Which makes sense if you think about how that coping tool would become obsolete if you replace it with something better, but it's still a bit of an awkward reasoning jump to make. Does that help? $\endgroup$ – Seanny123 Jan 17 '17 at 0:39

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