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Interoception and Eating Disorders


By Columnist Eleni Psillakis – Eating Disorder Educator and Filex 2016 Inspiration Award Winner:

Comfort Zone Blackboard


Photo Credit: Eleni Psillakis, 2017 – Comfort Zone –

Beliefs form the basis of our actions, particularly beliefs about ourselves. Depression and anxiety are comorbid with eating disorders giving an exaggerated negative image of self, others and the future. This article looks at how beliefs and anxiety may interfere with accurate interoception and the cycle that this creates, particularly with eating disorders.


Interoception involves sensing the physiological state of the body and the ability to accurately identify emotions. For example, sensing pain, temperature, itch, sensual touch, hunger, stomach discomfort related to low pH and intestinal tension or confusion over whether someone is feeling fear or anger. The interesting thing is that sensing these physiological signs is affected by our emotional state. To determine the impact of our emotions in regards to eating disorders and how interoception is affected, our beliefs need to be taken into consideration.

The Role of Beliefs and Interoception

A belief can be defined as a mental construct that affirms or denies the truth and is closely linked to the judgment process. These processes provide insight into the link between self and interoception. False beliefs affect decision-making as the individual’s perception of reality is distorted.

To put this into context, when I struggled with anorexia nervosa, the core belief I had was that I was not loved unless I did things and that I was not valued as I was not allowed to have an opinion. So I started exercising obsessively and eating less. As I did this, I had my parents’ attention, whereas before I felt ignored. The anxiety around not exercising or eating became worse and my thoughts continually raced around food, exercise and the strict regimes I set for myself. If I broke these, the anxiety increased and I felt like a failure. So I would react by eating less and exercising more. I did not feel hunger or gauge the intensity at which I ran. I could not rationally evaluate what I was doing.

The Effect of the Constant States of Anxiety

Research has shown that the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) of the brain is active when a person’s thoughts are at rest as this is when self-reflection occurs, and the power of false beliefs decreases. This means if highly anxious states dominate, the false beliefs become stronger and so the cycles continue. Being in a constant state of anxiety around food, exercise and thinking that I would lose worth or my parent’s attention, did not allow this state of rest to occur and so the false beliefs were strengthened.

In the case of bulimia nervosa, or binge eating disorder, the binge may represent an escape from self-awareness, resulting from guilt and shame. In the process of the binge, anxiety increases and the sense of being full is not acknowledged. This adds to the guilt/shame, and the destructive cycle is strengthened.

The Need to Challenge False Beliefs

This shows that false core beliefs need challenging to break these behaviours. I believe it takes professional help for a person to examine these beliefs and to determine their accuracy especially when they have existed for years. Ways of challenging these false beliefs and then replacing them with accurate ones are vital to changing the behaviour and breaking the cycle. It is not easy and requires effort, but with the right help and support, it is possible.

For help, please contact your GP and/or visit:



Do You Want to Learn More?

Then come to Filex and join my ‘Identifying and Managing Eating Disorders in the Fitness Industry Session

Eating disorders come in all body shapes and sizes. How then do you determine if a client is suffering from any of these serious mental health issues – and if they are, how do you manage them? Drawing on her personal and professional experience, Eleni provides an insight into eating disorders and explains how to best serve clients suffering from them.

When: Saturday 29th April

Time: 10.15 – 11.45am

 See Me at Filex

About Our Eating Disorder News and Review Columnist – Eleni Psillakis

IMG_0727Combining over 27-years experience in the fitness industry, education and a lived experience of eating disorder, Eleni Psillakis is raising awareness of eating disorders as serious mental illnesses. In this time as a group fitness instructor, personal trainer, secondary and tertiary educator, she is aware of the fine-line crossed from healthy to unhealthy diet and exercise habits.

Using resistance training to gain weight to her 39kg frame at age 19, Eleni physically recovered and went on to compete in women’s bodybuilding. However the underlying emotional issues and thought patterns resurfaced 25-years later when her marriage broke down and she suffered clinical depression. Antidepressants and 8-years of psychological counselling assisted with the unlearning of negative thought processes that Eleni had of herself for most of her life. These were nothing to do with body image, but self-worth.

Resistance training again helped the process of stopping her thoughts racing during this time of depression and she stepped back onto the competition stage gaining a top 3 place in her division for each of the 5 competitions since. It was the psychological help that made the difference this time around.


In 2016, Eleni received the ‘Inspiration Award’ at the prestigious FILEX health and fitness convention, an event that recognises excellence within the industry. Eleni won the award due to her commitment in promoting awareness of eating disorders and dedication to educating others in how to overcome feelings of self-loathing.


An Insight to Anorexia and Other Eating Disorders for Fitness Professionals”, a seminar that Eleni has written, has been approved by Fitness Australia for continuing education.

Eleni Logo

Disclaimer: The information published in this column are based on the author’s own professional and personal knowledge, and opinion. This information and opinion are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment of any manner. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding any medical condition and consult a qualified medical professional before beginning any nutritional program or exercise program. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on InShape News.

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9 thoughts on “Interoception and Eating Disorders”

  1. Pingback: Homepage
  2. Pingback: Daniel Wilson
  3. Pingback: Kara
    1. Thank you Kara! Examining what we really believe about ourselves impacts our health and behaviour in more ways than we imagine. I’m glad this made you smile 🙂

  4. Really enjoyed this article. It made me think about how I feel sometimes and where I’m headed. Thanks Eleni, today is a good day 🙂

    1. Hi Roger,
      Thank you for your comment. My experiences have really taught me to examine where my thoughts are coming from and where they could lead me. If I recognise a pattern and it is not helpful then I use methods that work for me to stop
      That train of thoughts. Looking at ourselves is the hardest thing to do but often the most Helpful. I hope you continue to have many good days & please contact me if you’re not 🙂

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