The Possible Role of the Primary Drive of Hunger in Eating Disorders
The primary drive of hunger is explained through the theory of Drive-Reduction. This theory posits that biological urges motivate humans to behave or act in a manner which satisfies the urge. As such, a drive such as hunger will create tension or an urge that causes the person to eat in order to satisfy the hunger. This theory, however, seems to fail when considered in relation to eating disorders.
In contrast to drive reduction theory, settling point theory attempts to explain hunger and eating behaviors as a means of reaching a state of equilibrium. Settling point theory, posits that the body attempts to balance its energy and nutritional needs by managing food intake (Pinel, 2011). Within this framework of thought, hunger is seen as a means of fulfilling the needs of the body. When a person needs food or energy, the person feels hungry (Pinel, 2011). This theory also posits that the amount of food eaten and the eating practices create a point that determines hunger and satiation. This would explain why a person who is obese and does not need to eat will feel hungry and why an anorexic may not feel hungry after eating too little. Both person’s settling points have been altered by their eating practices and the amount of food eaten.
Anorexia and Bulimia may best be explained from a biological standpoint using settling point theory. When anorexics and bulimics starve and binge, they alter their settling points. In the case of anorexics, the constant starvation creates a lower settling point which allows the person to eat very little and not feel hungry. Bulimics will binge and this raises their settling point due gorging themselves with food and then finding relief in purging. While this explains the biological mechanics of these diseases, it does not explain the motivation for the behaviors and practices which cause them.
According to the APA, anorexia and bulimia are social diseases which are likely due to pressures within society (American Psychological Association, 2011). It is believed that social emphasis on physical beauty and thinness motivates these diseases. This concept of social disease is best understood from a cultural standpoint. In the US and many western countries there is a large emphasis placed on physical beauty and body weight. For example, when American television was first introduced in Fiji in 1995 there was a change in view of what beauty was in the country. When television was introduced, the people of Fiji did not see physical beauty in terms of being think, but rather as being muscular and robust. By 1998, 74% of teenage girls in Fiji considered themselves as being overweight (BBC, 1999). For this reason, it is believed that social forces such as media can be large drivers in the causes of eating disorder.
Social pressure can instigate problems such eating disorders because they motivate individuals both intrinsically and extrinsically. The pressure to be thin or look attractive can create social pressures to conform which are extrinsic in nature. At the same time, the desire to look good and be accepted can also motivate behavior. Both of these forms of motivation take place in a person with eating disorders and this causes the behavior to be tremendously difficult to stop.
American Psychological Association. (2011, October). Eating Disorders. Retrieved from American Psychological Association: http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/eating.aspx
BBC. (1999, May 20). Health ‘TV brings eating disorders to Fiji’ . Retrieved from BBC: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/347637.stm
Pinel, J. P. (2011). Biopsychology, Eighth Edition. Boston, Mass: Allyn & Bacon. Pearson Education, Inc.