Hilde Bruch

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Hilde Bruch
Born (1904-03-11)11 March 1904
Dülken, Germany
Died 15 December 1984(1984-12-15) (aged 80)
Citizenship United States
Nationality German-American
Fields Medicine
Institutions Baylor College of Medicine, Houston.
Known for Research into Anorexia nervosa, eating disorders
Notable awards President’s Citation for Meritorious Contributions to the Clinical Services, Baylor College of Medicine (1978); William A. Schonfeld Award for Contribution to Psychiatry, American Society for Adolescent Psychiatry (1978); Golden Doctoral Diploma, Medical Faculty of Albert-Ludwig University of Freiburg (1978); Mount Airy Gold Medal Award for Distinction and Excellence in Psychiatry (1979); Nolan D.C. Lewis Award for Contributions to Psychiatry (1980); American Psychiatric Association Founders Award (1981), Agnes Purcel McGavin Award, American Psychiatric Association (1981); Joseph B. Goldberger Award in Clinical Nutrition, American Medical Association (1981)

Hilde Bruch (March 11, 1904 - December 15, 1984) was a German-born American psychoanalyst, known foremost for her work on eating disorders and obesity.

Bruch emigrated to the United States in 1934. She worked and studied at various medical facilities in New York and Baltimore before becoming a professor of psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston in 1964.

In 1973 she published her seminal work Eating Disorders: Obesity, Anorexia Nervosa, and the Person Within. This book was based on observations and treatments of eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa, over several decades. In 1978 she published The Golden Cage: the Enigma of Anorexia Nervosa,,[1] a distillation of Eating Disorders aimed at the lay reader. Her other works include Don't Be Afraid of Your Child (1952), The Importance of Overweight (1957),[2] and Learning Psychotherapy: Rationale and Ground Rules (1974).[3] A final work,Conversations with Anorexics (1988) [4] was published posthumously.

Early life[edit]

Hilde Bruch was born in the small German town of Dülken, on the Lower Rhine near the Dutch border, She was the third of seven children, with four brothers and two sisters. Her parents, Hirsch and Adele (Rath) Bruch were members of the local Jewish community.

At an early age, Bruch wanted to become a mathematician. An uncle convinced her however that medicine offered better career possibilities for a Jewish woman. She studied at the Albert Ludwig University in Freiburg im Breisgau, where she graduated as a doctor in medicine in 1929.

Bruch accepted academic posts at the University of Kiel, and subsequestly at the University of Leipzig, where she undertook research and studies for two years. This coincided with a period of rising anti-Semitism across Germany and in the university, which eventually forced Bruch to abandon her academic career. In October 1932 she moved to a private pediatric practice in Ratingen, near Düsseldorf. However conditions for the Jewish community in Germany continued to deteriorate and in April 1933 legislation was enacted that severely restricted "Jewish activity" in the medical and legal professions. Bruch was persuaded to flee to England in June 1933. She stayed in London for a year, working at the East End Maternity Hospital, which served the Jewish immigrant community in London's impoverished East End, .

Professional Career in the United States[edit]

In September 1934 Bruch emigrated to the United States and settled in New York, where she worked at the Babies’ Hospital. She obtained her pediatric licence in 1935 and became an American citizen in 1940. In 1937 she began to research obesity in children, having obtained a fellowship from the Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation. This would mark the beginning of her career involvement with eating disorders.[5]

From 1941 to 1943, Bruch studied psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University, a private research university in Baltimore, Maryland. She underwent psychoanalytic training, studying under a number of notable psychiatrists, including Frieda Fromm-Reichmann, Harry Stack Sullivan, Theodore Lidz and Lawrence S. Kubie.

In 1943 Bruch returned to New York, opened a private psychoanalytic practice and taught at Columbia University, where she became affiliated with the College of Physicians and Surgeons. She was appointed clinical associate professor in 1954 and professor in 1959.

In 1964, Bruch accepted a position as Professor of Psychiatry at the Baylor College of Medicine, Houston. She would live the remainder of her life in Houston; however, before departing New York, she purchased a Rolls Royce because she refused to "kowtow to Texas Cadillacs".


Bruch accepts that the body knows what it needs and communicates that to the brain. However, there are learned aspects of the hunger drive. These can be blamed on early childhood parental practices, in which parents put babies out of touch with the natural physiology of when, what, and how much to eat. Humans have this natural mechanism, but have learned not to pay attention.

"Eat Like Daddy Syndrome"[edit]

An unusual coinage for a term in the confines of psychology, in which terms are usually foreign or Latinized, and not generally so simple as to mean what they say. Bruch claims Eat Like Daddy is especially true in little boys who observe their father eating. The mother praises the father, and asks the father to show his muscles to motivate the child to eat like daddy. (Which is usually, like a horse.) The child sees the father receiving praise for eating, and in turn eats more.[citation needed]

"Clean your plate syndrome"[edit]

Another coinage by Bruch, this is true for both sexes in children.[citation needed] This procedure teaches humans not to pay attention to the lateral hypothalamus, the part of the brain that causes the desire to eat, or to the ventromedial hypothalamus, which causes the desire to stop eating. Children are often told to clean their plate and will be rewarded with dessert, or being excused to go play.[citation needed]

Other food associations[edit]

Eating, according to Bruch, is an overt and socially learned behavior. Often humans eat when others are eating, even if that person is not hungry. Additionally advertisers use pictures of people eating when advertising food. (This is of course the fault of the famous psychologist John B. Watson[citation needed].) Similarly food is associated with celebrations, as usually food is part of the celebration. In most cultures, it is not acceptable to say "no thank you" to a dessert, such as at a birthday party for example.


  1. ^ Harvard University Press
  2. ^ Hilde Bruch publishes "The Importance of Overweight," The Jewish Women's Archive
  3. ^ Harvard University Press,
  4. ^ [1]
  5. ^ http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/bruch-hilde

External links[edit]