Food orgies and fasts have characterised all historical eras and cultures. Over the last hundred years our relationship with food has become increasingly difficult, and the act of eating has been associated to the issue of physical self-image. In rich countries anorexia, bulimia, and obesity co-exist in epidemic proportions; but even in developing countries one may witness, besides an ample malnourished population, a growing number of obese individuals and initial cases of anorexia. The text analyses causes and functions of these ailments, the biological and environmental factors that support their occurrence, related unconscious mental processes, family histories, and the role of critical passages in the life cycle. Healing these painful disorders is difficult yet possible; cures are usually based on psychotherapy rather than pharmacology. The author allows the reader to reflect on the complexity of these disorders through the description of their long-term effects, as illustrated by unusual or typical clinical accounts.
Massimo Cuzzolaro teaches Psychiatry at "La Sapienza" University in Rome, where he also heads a clinic for eating disorders. Since 1996 he has been editor-in-chief of "Eating and Weight Disorders: Studies on Anorexia, Bulimia, and Obesity".