Self, Alimentary Identity, and Anorexia, diagnosis and clinical.

-- Self, Alimentary Identity, and Anorexia, diagnosis and clinical. --

Dr. Vittorio Catalano

The word Identity, (from the Latin Identitas, derived from idem ("same thing"), which reproduces the Greek, ταὐτότης), is a term, and a philosophical principle that generally indicates the equality of an object, respect to itself. In relation to other objects, identity, is everything that makes an entity definable and recognizable, because it has a set of qualities or characteristics that make it what it is, distinguishing it from all other entities. The prof. William James in his work "Principles of Psychology", introduces the concept of identity (empirical self), or “Mé”, defining it, as "the total sum of everything, that an individual can say his: not only his body and his psychic faculties but his clothes, and his house, his wife, children, ancestors and friends, his reputation, and his work, his lands, and his horses, the boat, and the bank account " then James, proposes a further division of the constituents of the self: the material self, includes: body, clothes, family, friends,  the house.. the social self, is the recognition that each men, gets by their own kind, the spiritual self, is the inner or subjective being of a man, its provisions and psychic faculties, finally, the pure ego or nucleus of primary identity, is, that kind of transcendental atemporal consciousness, which allows everyone to recognize ourselves anytime, anywhere. The present moment of knowledge, the fleeting moment, becomes so, the darkest point, the hook, from which hangs the chain of the self passed, a constant point of view, which allows us to recognize ourselves in this moment, and to recognize, past events as part of ourselves. These reflected evidences, direct us, towards a social and clinical vision: the relationship between society and people, between the individual suffering, and his social manifestation, and finally the relationship between personal identity and, in this case, the pathological class of eating disorders. Plus, could exist an Alimentary identity? How does it work? The paediatrician Clara Marie Davis, explained everything (Winnetka, Ill. U.S.) in an experiment which took place in an orphanage, converted into a laboratory for nutritional research. It was attended by 15 children, and lasted a total of six years, and the permanence of the children ranged from six months to four years and a half. The quantity of each food eaten or refused was recorded. Also were regularly monitored the anthropometric measures such as height and weight, and monitored the biological functions such as intestinal transit, plus bone radiographs and blood analysis. At the beginning of the experiment, children had just been weaned (6-11 months) and had not eaten any food over to milk. Moreover, they had not yet been influenced by the eating habits of adults. The foods were presented all separate, with meals throughout the day, without that operators could in any way encourage children to choose a food or prefer it to another. The food preparation was as simple as possible. The 34 foods were: water, milk, sea salt, fruit (apples, bananas, orange juice, fresh pineapple, peaches), vegetables (tomatoes, red beets, carrots, peas, turnips, cauliflower, cabbage, spinach, potatoes, lettuce), cereal (oatmeal, cornmeal, rye crackers, wheat grains, barley grains), meat (beef, lamb, bone marrow, bone gelatine, chicken, sweetbreads, brain, liver, kidney), fish (cod). The 15 children, always, were able to find what they wanted to eat, they had appetite and grew vigorous. Constipation was unknown and laxatives were never used. Colds and flu, always lasted three days without complications of any sort. Excluding a case of tonsillitis and a mononucleosis epidemy, for six years there were no serious illnesses. Some of the children were not in good condition before beginning the experiment: some were malnourished and underweight, and four children were suffering of rickets. In the tray of one of the rachitic, was also offered cod liver oil: the child chose it and drank it occasionally, until the blood analysis and radiographs showed that rickets was healed, after that, he has not drank other . For the other three stunted children, was not proposed the cod liver oil, but, they are healed in the same time like the other child, without  medication or integrators, or ultraviolet rays. Independently of their initial conditions, all children came to the same optimal health situation. The average daily calorie intake was within the limits set by the standards for their age group, with exception of children who were malnourished at the beginning of the experiment, that during the first six months have exceeded the quantity. Of the total calories consumed during the experiment, the proteins made up the 17%, lipids 35%, and carbohydrates 48% . Depending on the child's age, the percentage of protein it ranged from 9% to 20% and decreased with the growth and the increasing  of physical activity. The diets choices by children reflected the relationship between nutrients, recommended by paediatricians and nutritionists, each diet was different. The study therefore, describes and highlights, the existence of an innate mechanism, which regulates the balance of the assumption of essential nutrients, and more generally, feeding. Is therefore possible, emphasize a correlation between the sense of personal identity and the sense of Alimentary identity, and the terrifying action of Eating Disorders such as Anorexia? An inspirer clue, that has put clarity on this question, was provided from  the famous experiment of the simulated prison (Philip Zimbardo). After the end of the experiment, researchers asked to the partecipants students, to describe all the feelings, relating to the experiences lived in the simulated prison. In one of these interviews the number 416 (Clay), a "prisoner" said: "I started to get the feeling of losing my identity. The person I call Clay, the person who put me in this place, the voluntary person to enter in this prison, because for me it was a prison, for me it is still a prison, I do not consider it an experiment or a simulation is a prison run by a psychologist rather than the state. I started to get the impression that my identity, the person that I was, that he had decided to go to prison, was far from me, was distant, at the end was not me. I was the "416". I was really my number, and 416 had to decide what to do, and  was then that I decided to stop eating. I decided to fast because it was the only reward that the "guards" gave you.  They always threatened to not let me eat, but they had to feed us. And so I stopped eating. Then I had some sort of power over something, because I had found the one thing on which they could not do anything. At the end, they would been in deep shit, if they hadn't  fed me. So, be able to fast, meant humiliate them ". Even more specifically, a qualitative study on '' Anorexia and personal Identity "(Tan, Hope, Stewart), has evidenced a clear and conscious correspondence in the descriptions of patients regarding this dual relationship. "Interviewer: What does it mean anorexia for you? Daughter: "As I said before, it means enough. Is as if it was my identity and now is .... I guess I'm concerned that people dont know, they dont know the real me. " Interviewer: Let's say that you arrived at this point, and someone says to be able to move a magic wand, and, annul anorexia. Daughter: "I could not." Interviewer: You could not. Daughter: "It's a part of me now." Interviewer: OK. Therefore, it seems you are losing a part of yourself. Daughter I: "Because it was my identity." Interviewer: Who is your anorexia? Daughter C: "It's not something that you know well, a lot of people try to consider it as a kind of animal that sits on your shoulder or something; but I see it as if it were a sort of half of my mind, or something like that, and, I can separate it, and see it, as a different part of me". It is simple conclude that all aspects, descriptive and investigative, reinforced by clinical evidence, show a vision of this disorders, often far from the description and common representation that we all have of eating disorders. It also seems clear, that ignore these events in diagnosis and clinically, could reduce or invalidate, every therapeutic methodology that aims to solve the clinical disorder. This problem is often evident, and observable, generally in all the psychopathologies, as well as in psychosomatic, therefore, take care of these dynamics can certainly be decisive.


James William, L’ uomo come esperienza, l’Ancora 1999

Calogero Guido, Enciclopedia Italiana (1933) alla voce corrispondente

Davis Clara Marie, Results of the self-selection of diets by young children, Winnetka, Ill. U.S.A.,

Tan O. A  Jacinta, Hope Tony, Stewart Anna, Anorexia nervosa and personal identity: the accounts of patients and their parents, Internatinal Journal of law and psychiatry.

Zimbardo Philip, Lucifer Effect , Raffaello Cortina editore 2008.

Catalano Vittorio, Identity and Eating Disorders, Sapienza Univ. 2009, Rome, Italy.