When you hear someone mention eating disorders, you probably think of anorexia or bulimia right away. These are more commonly discussed in the media, but in reality, an eating disorder is any type of distorted relationship with food that negatively affects our behavior. Compulsive overeating is a type of eating disorder, even though it is essentially the opposite of anorexia. Many of us have a distorted relationship with food—I myself am guilty of such a relationship. However, I’m at one end of the spectrum where it doesn’t necessarily interfere with my life. Many women, especially in the Western world, suffer from eating disorders, and numerous studies show that it is directly a cause of skinny role models in the media. Before discussing that cause though, let’s first examine the different types of eating disorders people commonly develop.
Anorexia affects one in every 200 women in America. Studies show that the cause might be linked to traumatic situations. Peer pressure is a major factor, and some studies even show that genetic factors and posttraumatic stress might contribute to a person’s likelihood of developing anorexia. It is the refusal to maintain a healthy body weight and a fear of gaining weight. People with anorexia have an unrealistic body image.
Bulimia is characterized by recurrent binge eating following by compensatory behaviors. Diuretics, vomiting, and excessive exercise often follow binge eating. Binge eating is also a disorder of its own when it is not followed by compensatory behavior, which is considered compulsive overeating. Many studies suggest binge eating is triggered by stress.
So, why do people, especially women in the United States, feel that their bodies are not good enough? In addition to the stress and trauma often behind the disorders, studies suggest that the media might have a large role in the problem. Dr. Anne E. Becker, a professor of Global Health at Harvard Medical School, completed studies to determine the relationship between figures in the media and people with eating disorders. Not surprisingly, the impossibly skinny role models currently in the media heavily influence women and their self-image.
It’s hard to ignore the beautiful women on TV and in the magazines, but it is our duty as mothers and healthy citizens to do so as best we can. Try to maintain a healthy body weight with proper nutrition, and never let the airbrushed women in the media affect your view of yourself.
- Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.