Factors which influence what, how and when we eat
Many factors influence what, how and when we eat: appetite, food availability, family, peer, and cultural practices, and our attempts to control or regulate our diet. In addition, many aspects of society both actively and passively encourage people to diet. Fashion trends, so-called “healthy” or “diet” foods and supplements, and certain activities and professions are among the many contributors to, though not the causes, of eating disorders. The development of an eating disorder is not the result of a failure of will or behavior on the part of the sufferer, rather it is in fact a genuine medical illness for which treatment should be sought. Eating disorders often occur concurrently with various other psychiatric disorders such as depression, substance or drug abuse, and anxiety disorders.
There is no one single reason why anyone may develop an eating disorder. Everyone is different and will therefore have a different combination of factors that contribute to the problem. The underlying trigger is that every sufferer feels as though he or she is unable to cope with the pressure they feel that they are under. Problems in a person’s life can include low self-esteem, problems with friends and/or family, problems at work/school/university, the death of a close friend or family member, low self-confidence or even sexual, emotional or physical abuse. The ultimate feeling is one of inadequacy.
Eating disorders often occur concurrently with various other psychiatric disorders such as depression, substance or drug abuse, and anxiety disorders.
The difference between an eating disorder and a diet is simple. A diet involves trying to eat healthily by keeping everything in moderation; eating disorders involve a complete disregard for health and an obsession with weight on appearance, upon which the sufferer’s self-esteem hinges. This isn’t too hard to imagine given that if we meet someone after a long period of absence or not keeping in touch, the first thing one of us will say usually relates to appearance. “You’ve gained/lost weight. What happened to you? You look great!” How many of us have heard those things before? How many of us have felt bad after being told we’ve put on weight or aren’t looking good? And more importantly, how many of us have begun to obsess over how we look, desperate for approval and validation from others?
Anorexia Nervosa, probably the most high-profile eating disorder is characterized by an intense fear of gaining weight, infrequent or absent menstrual periods, extreme weight loss, and a resistance of maintaining body weight at or above a minimally normal weight for their age and height. Someone who suffers from anorexia may see themselves as being overweight even after starving to the point of becoming dangerously thin, and may develop unusual eating and weighing habits. Anorexia can lead to complications such as cardiac arrest, electrolyte imbalance, which can prove fatal. It is also no surprise that with such severe psychological problems that the disease can lead to suicide.
Bulimia Nervosa differs from anorexia in that the sufferer experiences recurrent episodes of binge eating followed by self-induced vomiting, laxatives, diuretics, fasting or excessive exercise to prevent weight gain. These actions are known as purging, and tend to occur on average at least twice a week for about three months. Bulimics, like anorexics, evaluate themselves purely on their opinion of their personal appearance, which is often self-deprecating and may be completely inaccurate. They may stay within a normal weight range for their age and height but feel intense dissatisfaction with something which drives them to binge and purge in secret.
An "addiction" to food is known as Compulsive Eating or Binge Eating. Compulsive eaters use food to hide from their emotions and fill a void inside, and to help them cope with the stress they may be under in their daily life. Compulsive eating puts a person at serious risk of heart attacks, high blood-pressure and cholesterol, kidney disease and/or failure, arthritis and bone deterioration and strokes. Though compulsive eaters use food to cope with their low self-esteem, it traps them in a vicious cycle; being dependent on food causes them to gain more weight, which only adds to their feelings of shame, which they then use food to cope with. It may make them feel better temporarily, but ultimately compounds their problems.
If there is anything that all sufferers of eating disorders have in common, it is low self-esteem. They feel as though there are not good enough and as though they are constantly scrutinized based on their appearance. Their problem ultimately is that they cannot see their own good qualitative no matter how often others point them out. They suffer from a kind of self-hate that completely distorts their perception of themselves.
The most effective treatment for an eating disorder in the long term is some form of psychotherapy or psychological counseling, in addition to re-addressing medical and nutritional needs. Each case is different; hence each person’s treatment plan should be tailored to their specific needs. It must address the symptoms and, most importantly, the underlying forces that contributed to or triggered the eating disorder. Treatment can either be in a hospital or arrangements can be made for outpatient therapy. Especially beneficial for long-term recovery is the support of family and friends, without being judgmental or adding to the patient’s feelings of self worthlessness. Knowing that people around them understand, and support them in their recovery process can make all the difference.