Mental Health and Cultural Bias on Eating Disorders We live in a culture that has dynamic tension between oppositions. That’s our fancy way of saying that we live in a culture of eating and wanting to stay in shape. Americans love to eat a lot and usually do things that are terrible for us. Pie-eating competitions, holidays, and hot dog-eating competitions all have us gorging. Then we watch TV and look at advertisements with people who are incredibly fit and whose body fat is in the dangerously low range. This creates a huge tension between us wanting to eat and wanting to be like those we see on TV.
This dynamic tension creates a lot of thinking and behavioral problems that if one what to stop and think about it would be ridiculous. Gorging on 3000 calories for a meal or going to the gym twice a day every day while your body is fighting of pneumonia are good examples of outrageous behavior like this.
Narrowing our focus down a little more we have eating disorders which are defined as behavioral and psychological issues concerned with food and body shape resulting from underlying conditions. Eating disorders are commonly put under two types:
- Anorexia nervosa,
- Bulimia nervosa.
Anorexia nervosa is a pattern of restrictive food intake due to a distorted view of one’s weight and body shape. This disorder is marked by a reduction in body mass and high anxiety to dangerous levels. The individual finds ways the burning what they do take or restrict calories resulting in dangerous thinness. It’s important to remember that these disorders can take many different forms and that they are not simplistic. For example, most people equate anorexia with not eating. However, anorexia can also be linked to overexercising.
Bulimia nervosa is defined as a pattern of consuming excessive calories and then various methods to purge the excess calories. this disorder is commonly thought of as a type of person who eats food and then throws it up. However, the actual disorder resists simplicity since not everyone throws up. Some take laxatives or other medications while others, over-exercise. The thing about bulimia is that it can be hidden well in terms of normal weight or dieting while it wreaks havoc on the body. Often underlying psychological issues of stress and depression have to do with bulimia.
We have discussed how culture plays a big part in eating disorders. However, it isn’t just culture by itself since culture has a lot of weird and backward ideas. We need to look at it with a more refined eye. for example, when we look at who is most likely to be afflicted by an eating disorder, women far outnumber men. If this were 100 years ago, we would just say women have some neurotic disorder. What is happening is that culture is different for men and women. What is also happening is that the photoshopped version that is often seen in advertisements and magazines is becoming the ideal.
Women are also given these impossible images and ideals to live up to. Look at any fashion or teen magazine and the photos have been tweaked and modified so that the image isn’t anyone anymore. This hyper-focus on women and their bodies is reflected in the numbers, with 80% to 95% of eating disorders being female. Although we can agree on one point that culture has put an impossible image on women, it is not entirely a female issue. At least 5 to 20% of eating disorders are diagnosed in males. like many mental disorders, this is based on a psychologist’s perception of the client. The real number is likely much higher because there is a cultural bias that an eating disorder is a woman’s problem.
Eating disorders or substance abuse disorders are turned on or off or get worse or better depending on the environment someone’s in. Unfortunately, there is a lot of mental health stigma still. Some people with eating disorders get benefits from medication which helps with those stubborn thoughts as well as the depression and anxiety that often comes along with these diagnoses. We understand that sometimes food can become more than just food for some people; it can take over thoughts and feelings. But with evidence-based treatments, they can get their lives back and develop healthy relationships with food.
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