The Impact of Family Dynamics on Eating Disorders


This review is an in-depth analysis of the impact of family dynamics on eating disorders. The review wholly portrays the effects by using varied aspects vital in the field of psychology to study eating disorders.  Firstly, this literature reviews Bachner-Melman et al.’s aspects of measuring eating disorders. Lock et al.’s alternative multiple family treatment as a way of dealing with children and adolescents suffering from the disorder, and a similar method by Coelho et al. known as a family-based treatment.

Further, the paper notes resilience as a mediation factor in the treatment of the disorder across different types of families as put by Leys et al. In support of Leys et al. is Marcon et al.’s study which supports parental involvement in the treatment of the disorder. Loss of parents, poverty, disunity among family members, and age bracket are gaps identified by the review which require further investigation


In the world today, numerous studies have been conducted to investigate the impact of family dynamics on eating disorders. However, study results have a slight contradiction because different studies make specific references on the elements of the study. Bachner-Melman et al. suggest that lack of symptoms, bodily satisfaction, self-acceptance, and most important social and family interaction are the key measures of eating disorders (ED). This review, therefore, represents a full examination of Bachner-Melman et al.’s study results and other studies that have reported the impact of family dynamics on eating disorders.

Bachner-Melman et al.’s study conducted in 2018 established that the standardization of measurement of an eating disorder characterized an ED as one of the psychiatrist disorders that makes one have eating difficulties as it gets accompanied by physical and psychological health disorders. Concerning family dynamics, the study found out that there is always an agreement that exists between family members, therapists, and victims of EDs concerning their recovery. This agreement forms a standardized medical model of recovery.

Bachner-Melman et al. (2018) further reported that apart from the clinical tool and the therapist. Members of the family are a high indicator of the recovery trajectory for suffering patients. This result is indeed an indication that family relations have an enormous impact on the lives of individuals suffering from eating disorders. Therefore, to measure the disorder, family dynamics have to be taken into consideration without second thoughts.

Multiple Family Treatment (MFT)

Bachner-Melman et al.’s findings seem slightly different yet highly related to the outcomes by Lock et al. Lock et al. (2018) suggest that we are not in the right position to deal with issues and cases of child and adolescent eating disorders. Lock et al. (2018) insists that a single-family treatment therapy is not enough to treat the eating disorder among children hence recommends the utilization of a multiple treatment therapy. In this view, Lock et al. highlight some of the baseline assessments conducted on different groups. At the end of the survey, clinical gains got reported. The study, according to Lock et al. (2018, p.483), indicated that the treatment group that received an effective Multiple Family Treatment (MFT) had positive changes in their eating habits.

From the above discussion, Lock et al. affirms that the process of bringing the family resources together through the use of MFT helps in improving the interactions and relations between family members hence improving the conditions of both the adolescents and children suffering from eating disorders. Additionally, family characteristics are identified as the potential moderators for eating disorders (Lock et al., 2018.p.484). Lock et al.’s study recommends the need for intensive parental coaching for both adolescents and children who are recognized as non-respondents. This literature is a reliable indicator that indeed family dynamics in the form of characteristics have an impact on the eating disorders of children of different ages.

Family-Based Treatment (FBT)

Similarly, Coelho et al. (2019) studied the effectiveness of Family-Based Treatment (FBT) for pediatric eating disorders in a tertiary care setting. Coelho et al. (2018, p.1) defined an FBT as that which requires parents to support their children in fully recovering from an eating disorder. Despite the requirements, parents face numerous challenges like anxiety and burnout in tolerating a child’s eating problems (Coelho et al.,2019, p.2). Coelho et al. (2019) found out that those who completed the FBT program got discharged so that they could make intense follow -up with their family physician. These results highly indicated the impact that family dynamics have on the elimination of eating disorders because family physicians might help in eradicating anxiety after weight gain has been attained fully from the program.

Similar to this finding is another critical finding that 25 individuals out of the selected 62 who fully completed the FBT for the eating disorder got referred to a community-based team for a community-based team so that they would continue with their FBT (Coelho et al., 2019, p.8). The number is less as compared to the count of those who got transferred to family-related treatments. Coelho et al. (2019) recognize family-related therapy as a more intense procedure. Moreover, patients who have increased their BMI reveal an indication of better treatment outcomes.

In support of Coelho et al.’s ideas concerning the challenges that family members face when helping other people to correct the ED is Leys’ study on the influence of family dynamics on eating disorders and their consequence on resilience. Leys et al. (2017, p.124) assert that family dynamics is characterized by the ability to cope up with emotional challenges, flexibility and adaptability, low flexibility and low adaptability. Also, resilience also has a considerable contribution to the adaptation of the sources of trauma and stress.

distinguishing a relationship between the family

From the study by Leys et al. (2017), results recorded that young women who have grown in an extreme family since childhood have a higher chance of developing an eating disorder as compared to young women who come from a mid-range and a balanced family. The study reports a low resilience among young women in mid-range families as compared to those from a stable family. This information helps in distinguishing a relationship between the family structure and resilience level.  Leys et al. (2017, p 128) made a conclusive observation that when resilience is introduced as a mediator, then family dynamics will not in any way affect the occurrence of an eating disorder.

In support of the above sentiments concerning family dynamics is Marcon et al.’s study that offers a varied perspective on the parental involvement, child and adolescent EDs from residents in pediatrics, family medicine, and psychiatry. According to Marcon et al. (2017, p. 79), the primary role of parents is the involvement in the FBT. If parents get involved in the treatment of the ED of a child during their adolescent stage, it is highly likely that the severity of the symptoms will reduce. The study results found out that the endorsement of family involvement was lower among family medicine individuals and higher among those who had trained for more than ten times. On the other hand, the study found out that approximately 13% of parents should get involved in the treatment of a child or adolescent’s eating disorders so that they can be in a better position to resolve issues related to family dynamics.

Future Study

The studies above have failed to look at the causes of eating disorders among children and adolescents who are orphans and do not have families. Their disorders might not have been caused by family interaction and relation as proposed by the above studies. The fact that some children suffer from psychological distress as a result of the loss of their parents is enough to make them suffer from eating disorders. Future studies should, therefore, bring in more effort in looking at the causes of the ED before looking at the ways of treating the disorders. In psychology and science, prevention is usually better than cure.

Also, the above studies have failed to take into consideration the fact that poverty can be a crucial accelerator of eating disorders. Apart from the family type, poverty can affect a child’s access to meals hence leading to a reduction in the weight or even the ability to maintain meals. Poverty profoundly affects family relations and interactions negatively. Parents are, therefore, highly unlikely to watch their children’s eating behaviors when they are not in a position to cater for the meals.

helping children to recover

The identification of parental support in helping children to recover from eating disorders is vital in supporting the impact that family dynamics have on them. Despite this relevance, the study by Coelho et al. fails to identify some of the factors like disunity among family members that might affect the kind of support they offer to their children. In cases where a family is divided, it is highly likely that parental support might emerge as a challenge hence the child might not be in a position to fully recover from the ED. There is, therefore, a need to further study the impact of disunity in accelerating the treatment of the disorder among children.

Children in the adolescent stage tend to be unruly as they cannot be controlled in any way. Their behavior might affect the FBT where parents get involved in helping them treat the disorder. In this view, their age might be a real cause of the ED. The study by Marcon et al. and Lock et al. could have given further information regarding the effect of age on the eating behavior of children. There is, therefore, a need to investigate the impact of age in eating disorders and maybe if age difference has an effect on healthy family relationships and interactions.


Bachner-Melman, R., Lev-Ari, L., Zohar, A. H., & Lev, S. L. (2018). Can recovery from an eating disorder be measured? toward a standardized questionnaire. Frontiers in Psychology, 9 doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.0245

Coelho, J. S., Beach, B., O’Brien, K., Marshall, S., & Lam, P. (2019). Effectiveness of family-based treatment for pediatric eating disorders in a tertiary care setting. Clinical Practice in Pediatric Psychology, doi:10.1037/cpp0000273; 10.1037/cpp0000273.supp (Supplemental)

Leys, C., Kotsou, I., Goemanne, M., & Fossion, P. (2017). The influence of family dynamics on eating disorders and their consequence on resilience: A mediation model. American Journal of Family Therapy, 45(2), 123-132. doi:10.1080/01926187.2017.1303654

Lock, J., & Le Grange, D. (2018). Family-based treatment: Where are we and where should we be going to improve recovery in child and adolescent eating disorders. International Journal of Eating Disorders, doi:10.1002/eat.22980

Marcon, T. D., Girz, L., Stillar, A., Tessier, C., & Lafrance, A. (2017). Parental involvement and child and adolescent eating disorders: Perspectives from residents in psychiatry, pediatrics, and family medicine. Journal of the Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry / Journal De l’Académie Canadienne De Psychiatrie De l’Enfant Et De l’Adolescent, 26(2), 78-85. Retrieved from

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Ehsan Adib Shabahang
I am Ehsan Shabahang Born, originally from Iran. My dream is to be part of your life and connect with people. Helping people has been my passion for many years, and it continues to be the thing that drives me to grow. I am one of those people that tries to find the answer to a problem, and I always work very hard to ensure that the information that I provide is correct. But, if I made a mistake let me know and forgive me in advance.
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