Eating Disorders: Defining a Culture
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Eating Disorders: Defining a Culture

How Western culture is a contributing factor to eating disorders; Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and EDNOS (Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified).

We live in a culture that has the ability to define an individual through many factors, one being through beauty. Throughout history we have undergone extensive transformation including from what we eat to how we dress. Western culture which includes industrialized areas such as the United States, Canada, and Europe (American Psychiatric Association, 2000) currently emphasizes physical appearance of an individual and minamalizes personal health and wellbeing. The focus of this essay will be on how western culture is a contributing factor to eating disorders; Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and EDNOS (Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified).

Everyday one is bombarded with images of beautiful fashion models, diet commercials and gym and equipment advertisements. It is difficult to escape these images as they are posted everywhere we look; in newspapers, magazines, television, movies, billboards, and even more boldly delivered to our homes via coupons or advertisements that come in the mail. The obsession with weight and body image has polluted western culture and as a consequence is resulting in distorted body image and eating patterns. A primary example of distorted eating is Anorexia Nervosa in which young women (or men) restrict the amount of calories they consume daily, resulting in a significant amount of weight loss and sometimes resulting in death (Course Kit pg.583). The message one receives from the media is a huge contributing factor to this condition. A few examples of this point include the television program, America’s Next Top Model. On a current episode and young womans weight gain throughout the season was highlighted and as a result she was eliminated at the end of the show. She was far from being un-healthily overweight. Another example includes the constant bombardment of pictures of fashion models or celebrities that line the shelves in the supermarkets. In these ads the woman are celebrated for being thin. Overweight individuals are exploded and are generally shown in the tabloids as being a disgrace or out of control. There is also a staggering amount of gym advertisements on television, radio, and in print. As a result a common struggle individuals with Anorexia face is over exercising. This can include numerous trips to the gym daily, excessive running where in extreme cases can include mid-night runs as well as early morning runs (Abnormal Psychology, Canadian Addition. 2002. Pg.337). The possibilities for over exercising are limitless as the opportunities for working out are so accessible and encouraged in western culture. The message that is very rarely promoted is one of a healthy body that can include a curvy figure depending on biological body composition and personal set point. Set point is the weight at which ones body is designed to be at for optimum health (Psychoeducational Principles in Treatment. David M. Garner. 1997.Pg.149). The set point is different for every individual and can make the task of losing weight extremely difficult and frustrating. When we are constantly provided with images that insist thin hipped and breast-less women are ideal it becomes much more difficult to convince oneself otherwise. Women begin to hate their bodies and to resent it if it does not fit the societal mold. This results in a disconnection between mind and body that women with eating disorders consistently have in common. Their actions are consumed by trying to overcome the hungry feelings their bodies are giving them and a lot of the time the control tactics do not stop at restricting foods. A lot of disordered women deny themselves sleep or even deny themselves urinary or feces excretion until the last moment. Instead of working with their bodies in order to obtain their own personal optimum health, they try their hardest to work in order to control it. This pattern is consistent in another eating disorder called Bulimia Nervosa.

Bulimia Nervosa is another form of distorted eating that can result from messages in the media. Bulimia, although just as deadly as Anorexia Nervosa, is not always as obvious physically when in extreme cases. Individuals struggling with this disorder generally consume large amounts of food in one sitting and use elimination methods such as vomiting, laxatives, diuretics, or enemas to purge the contents from the body (American Psychiatric Association. Course Kit. Pg.591). Bulimia Nervosa may initially result in weight loss but usually the body retains a somewhat normal weight. This disorder is just as deadly, however, as internal structures including but not limited to, the heart; esophagus and stomach are greatly affected. Both sufferers with Anorexia and Bulimia share the thought process that they must control themselves and when they eat they feel intense lack of control and self-hatred. What renders an individual to choose between Bulimia or Anorexia is not fully understood but the messages that induce such behaviours are quite the same. More examples from the media include the copious amounts of diet advertisements that surround us. Famous celebrities some of whom include, Sara Rue, Kirstie Alley and Valerie Bertinelli who have all been spokeswomen for the Jenny Craig diet are only a select few instilling the idea that image and thinness is everything important in western culture. This message conflicts with the proven fact that dieters are more often than not to suffer from Bulimia. This is because with the restriction of food, intense hunger leads those suffering with the disorder to binge on the “forbidden” foods and as a consequence, purging. Bulimia Nervosa is also used as a coping mechanism by some affected individuals. Western society has extremely high expectations regarding their cultures working status and amount of income, amount of education one has, social pressures and many others. The late Princess Diana was open with the fact the social pressures of her lifestyle contributed to her Bulimic behaviours (Abnormal Psychology, Canadian Edition. 2002. Pg.343). An important point to remember is that Bulimia Nervosa and Anorexia Nervosa are very extreme examples of how media is affecting society. One must meet specific guidelines to become hospitalized or considered effected by medical standards (Course Kit. Pgs.594, 589). There are many people who do not meet this ridged criterion and they are classified as Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS).

EDNOS affected individuals suffer from the same mental distortions as those suffering from diagnosed eating disorders. The difference is they do not fit into the specific categories or they may not meet the guidelines created by medical practitioners (Course Kit. Pg.594). These include how often one must purge to be considered Bulimic or how long one must starve to be considered Anorexic. The truth is if one starves oneself for even three hours there is mental distortion regarding food and/or body image and therapeutic intervention should be sought. It is common to find university and college students with EDNOS as they are surrounded by new diet ideas from classmates and suggestive advertisements on campus combined with the new stress of living alone and being independent. It is also a common occurrence to over hear or even be involved in conversations regarding weight loss, exercise routine, negative body image comments, calorie counting, ones’ expression of “feeling fat”, and clothing size or more specifically ones’ goal clothing size. The normality of this topic is frightening because it is easily overheard by young, vulnerable women thus continuing the cycle of distorted body image ideals. Although overhearing comments of a bodily sort is not directly related to the media it results from media sources as mentioned above.

In conclusion, western culture has produced an epidemic of eating disorders. The evidence is all around us and there is constant motivating messages being pumped into our everyday existence. One uses media and friends and family for support in a constant battle towards perfection. In order to break free, one must constantly struggle with societal ridicule for being “different” or “going against the grain”. Expect set backs if taking this route as being different is a struggle within itself. One must become blind to the messages in a very aware sense by not letting it control them but change them in order to ultimately shape the future. While one is consumed with distorted eating thoughts, one looses the ability to think of anything else and therefore limiting their individual growth. Others must fight for these people and for themselves also for we are all struggling in a world obsessed with outer beauty.

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Comments (1)

Great info