How to Understand Anorexia through the Eyes of Freud and Lacan

Anorexic people suppress hunger in an attempt to avoid gained weight, which leads them to a cycle of fasting and excessive loss of weight. They will indulge diets and exhaustive exercise. Very often they meet fatter although being below the healthy weight limit. As a consequence, they will suffer some physical and psychological problems such as cardiac arrhythmia, menstrual cycle disorder, weakness, bad nutrition, renal failure, isolation, depression and childish behavior.

What did Freud and Lacan think about Anorexia?


Ever since a long time ago (1892), Freud was much more interested in describing closely the symptoms of Anorexia in every detail, attempting to describe it more precisely with each case but not with the purpose of realizing a medical profile identification. He preferred to establish the psychical mechanism that the symptoms were exhibiting.

Freud established the “cannibal” or “oral” as the first sexual organization. The nutritional pulsion remained there supported.

As a general knowledge, he enunciated that neurosis sometimes appears in pubescent girls. This fact reveals that these girls are not sexually “authorized” and thus present anorexia as a consequence.

Freud associated nutritional neurosis (nervous anorexia) with Melancholy in presence of an under-developed sexuality:

Freud settled anorexia as a hysterical mechanism.

An example of this disorder was, Emmy von N., a patient of Freud. She was presented a deviation by eating in “excess” or drinking water (as she consumed chocolate milk and very thick drinks). Every time she felt repugnance for food or mineral water, she pulled a face, and an awful lot.

When she was finally able to speak about these episodes of her past, the difficulties for eating or drinking water disappeared.

In synthesis for Freud, anorexia is constituted by a series of hysterical symptoms and also related to Melancholy as to oral pulsion.


Love is a gift. Frustration is the rejection of the gift. The gift has a symbolical order, separated already from the object of satisfaction, it doesn’t cause but a deception. Satisfaction to a symbolic register is only a substitute, because the object is lost.

Example: A very young granddaughter of Freud fell stomach ill and couldn’t eat raspberries. Nevertheless, she dreamed that she ate them. She dreamt of an impossible thing. It is the symbolic order, since it is nothing, there aren’t any raspberries. This implied a desire of the impossible. The real object takes symbolical value, is the unconscious desire.

The mother’s breast erotized the oral zone, since it was a satisfaction object, with an essential role because it must be put at the plain of desire since becoming part of a symbolic order. In mental anorexia, a symptom offers a satisfaction that replaces the symbolic order because the object of satisfaction is not absent. Mother is seen as she was being all too potent, like she was containing on her body, all assembled as a set of primitives objects. The symptoms are an attempt for symbolizing them. Is because anorexia is: “Desire for eating nothing” but not: “Not to eat anything”.

Meanwhile mother is seen like almighty, child is reflected at the mirror like an impotent being, which is depressive for any child. At this moment, the child generates a force the only one possible for him: “To feed oneself of nothing”. The mother fails on her power and kid is now all potency. He is now master of his mother.

In anorexia there is an important absence: the father that as a third person can help the youngster to break this narrow space between mother and son.


These explanations are very productive, since they invite us to consider diverse issues.

With respect to Lacan: What happens in imaginary register when a girl with anorexic symptoms looks herself at mirror as she was another fatter girl?

With Freud: He opened a great field of research with his theme on melancholy and anorexia.

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