Issue 90 March 2012
For most food is an enjoyable and necessary part of life, but for some food becomes the enemy. Sarah Jawad discovers how compulsive eating disorders can take control of body and mind.
Eating disorders are a group of conditions defined by abnormal eating habits, and are associated with a combination of psychological, biological, and environmental difficulties. They are one of the lesser discussed medical topics, particularly amongst ethnic minorities. However, in the western world, eating disorders have become increasingly prevalent, and there is evidence that the degree of westernisation increases the risk of developing an eating disorder.
There is no defined cause of eating disorders. They do however often come with underlying psychological problems, such as very low self-esteem or a severe lack of confidence. Sufferers compare themselves unfavourably with others, seeing their own body as inadequate, and strive to improve themselves. Some people use eating disorders as a means to exercise some form of control in their life; this is most commonly seen in young women, who may be going through difficult situations that are out of their hands, and so they seek control through their body weight. It may sometimes be associated with other mental health issues, such as depression, or suicidal thoughts. They have also been related to adverse events in a person’s life, such as sexual abuse, physical illness, grief, and a difficult or abusive home situation. Finally, there is the theory that social pressure, created via the film and fashion industries’ use of unnaturally slender models, has led to an increased fixation with body image, particularly amongst younger women.