Is an eating disorder a symptom of a larger problem? What are eating disorders really about? Why is it not about the food? In this podcast episode, Dr. Cristina Castagnini discusses the bigger issues which underlie eating disorders.


  • An eating disorder is a symptom of a larger issue
  • “It is not about the food”
  • Possible reasons behind disordered eating

An eating disorder is a symptom of a larger issue

Disordered eating as a behavior is a symptom of a larger illness at hand and treating the eating disorder does not mean that the full issue has been healed.
What I’m hoping to do is bring awareness that simply changing behavior is not full recovery because the behavior is not the whole story, it’s just part of it. (Dr. Cristina Castagnini)
Even though changing eating disorder behaviors is a step in the direction of recovery, it is not full recovery itself.

“It is not about the food”

Eating disorders do not happen spontaneously. There may be underlying reasons that a person is struggling, and they may use food as a coping mechanism, which later develops into what the eating disorder becomes. It is easy to solely focus on healing the eating disorder without looking at what caused it; that is where the genuine healing takes place.

Possible reasons behind disordered eating

The need to assert control

The eating disorder gives a person a false sense of control over their life. Someone might not have the ability to make decisions for themselves in their home, and the eating disorder enables them to feel like they have control and autonomy.
Focusing on food and exercise can help someone to feel like they’re able to control something in their life if other areas in their life feel completely out of control. (Dr. Cristina Castagnini)

Purpose and Identity

An eating disorder can give someone a false sense of purpose and identity, especially if they feel very insecure, or only receive validation based on their outward appearance from their family and friends.
If someone starts to being known as “the healthy one”, “the gym rat”, this new identity is something they really don’t want to lose, so they want to maintain it because if they stopped it would mean losing their sense of purpose … and identity. (Dr. Cristina Castagnini)


An eating disorder can serve to communicate. Some people live in homes or spaces where they feel unsafe in speaking about their needs and wants, and they feel they will be judged, criticized, or misunderstood, and so the eating disorder becomes an expression of how the person is feeling internally.

Coping Mechanism

An eating disorder can be a coping mechanism. It distracts and numbs a person from having to deal with stressful or difficult things in their life.



I am a licensed Psychologist and Certified Eating Disorder Specialist. While I may have over 20 years of clinical experience, what I also have is the experience of having been a patient who had an eating disorder as well. One thing that I never had during all of my treatment was someone who could look me in the eye and honestly say to me "hey, I've been there. I understand". Going through treatment for an eating disorder is one of the hardest and scariest things to do. I remember being asked to do things that scared me. Things I now know ultimately helped me to get better. But, at the time, I had serious doubts and fears about it. If even one of my providers had been able to tell me "I know it's scary, but I had to go through that part too. Here's what will probably happen...." then perhaps I would not have gone in and out of treatment so many times. My own experience ultimately led me to specialize in treating eating disorders. I wanted to be the therapist I never had; the one who "got it". I will be giving you my perspective and information as an expert and clinician who has been treating patients for over 2 decades. But don't just take my word for it...keep listening to hear the truly informative insights and knowledge guest experts have to share. I am so happy you are here!


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