An eating disorder is a condition that keeps a person from eating food in a way that promotes good physical and emotional health. While more prevalent in Western nations, all races, cultures, genders, socio-economic groups and ages are susceptible to eating disorders. The general public became aware of eating disorders in 1983 following the death of a famous singer, Karen Carpenter, from anorexia nervosa.
Facts of Disordered Eating
As of 2011, 10 million men and 20 million women in the United States suffer from eating disorders at some point during their lifetime. Eating disorders often coexist with psychological and medical issues such as low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, trouble coping with emotions and substance abuse. Statistics showing girls under 10 years of age being worried about their body weight and shape are concerning. A variety of athletes are currently obsessed with having a perfect, thin and beautiful body.
What Causes Disordered Eating?
Dissatisfaction with one’s body or appearance is one main reason for disordered eating. For some, a preoccupation with food becomes a way to gain control over at least one aspect of their lives. Social media, television, movies and magazines present artificial and unhealthy ideals of beauty. This causes some young girls, teens, women, boys, men and their families to be preoccupied with dieting and thinness.
Kinds of Eating Disorders
Bulimia nervosa is an emotional disorder involving a distorted body image, eating large amounts of food and an obsessive desire to lose weight. These bouts of extreme overeating are followed by depression, guilt, shame and often self-induced vomiting, purging, or fasting or extreme exercising. It effects 3.5% of women, 2% of men, and up to 1.6% of adolescents in the U.S. Bulimia nervosa has the highest rate of suicide of all eating disorders.
Anorexia nervosa is about extremely low body weight, but the patient sees themselves as overweight. Patients may actually die of starvation. Statistics show 10% of people with anorexia nervosa die within 10 years. Anorexia has the highest death rate of all psychiatric diagnosis.
Ways Society Makes It Worse
Sadly, many adore superficial beauty in our sophisticated postmodern American society. Being a singular type – young, unblemished and thin is to be perfect. The media prefers a single body type and discourages tolerance of differences and varieties of physique. Additionally, we find attitudes and trends of unhealthy thin models in television and movies, magazines and social media on screens throughout the world. Those committed to encouraging their families’ healthy eating habits must battle the merciless influence of outside pressure. These social influences make it even more difficult to nurture and maintain healthy eating habits. So, what is to be done to help people successfully nourish their families?
What Can you do?
There are things you can do to prevent eating disorders even if you or someone you love is not struggling with an eating disorder. For example, you can spread awareness through education, be aware of the dangers and mindfully prevent the glamorizing of poor eating habits. In other words, take a stand!
- Prepare, serve and eat in healthy ways so that you and your family maintain healthy, nourishing habits. If you enjoy apps, check out The Best Eating Disorder Apps of 2016 (These apps offer ways to track eating and exercise, use cognitive behavioral therapy or positive affirmations for promoting healthy eating styles.)
- Do not shop at or buy products from stores that glorify overly thin models and starvation lifestyles.
- Take a positive stand against the dieting trend. Speak with your sons and daughters about the harm of eating disorders. Help them use common sense to see how the media distorts overly thin body types.
- Finally, speak up for and model healthy attitudes and eating practices wherever you find yourself: at work, with parenting groups, in programs for school children, athletics, scouting and church activities. Encourage a culture of accepting diversity of healthy body types and nurturing eating practices.
It Is Up to Me If It Is to Be
If we do not stop the swing toward rewarding faulty thinking and unhealthy choices, no one else will do it for us. So, it is up to you and me. We must not accept the distortion that being too thin is best. Will you take a stand with me and reclaim healthy eating patterns for our families?
Supervised by Amy Fuller PhD, LMFT-S, LPC-S
Fuller Life Family Therapy Institute, invites you to comment on or share this blog. Let this be a way of standing strong and joining the conversation to help families choose healthy eating habits!