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How Eating Disorders Begin - By Chris Gearing

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Watch Dr. Sylvia Gearing describe how eating disorders begin and what you should watch out for - click here.

Eating disorders are a tenacious mental health disorder that can be highly lethal if left unaddressed.

The disorder usually begins in adolescence and can last a lifetime. Current researchers recognize that the earlier the eating disorder develops, the more serious and stubborn the condition.

Society’s Message of Perfection:

One of the chief reasons that eating disorders persist is that our society continues to value being thin as a desirable characteristic, for women especially. Others who view the decreased weight as a sign of self-discipline or ambition tend to reward very thin people, often unintentionally. When the social environment is so reinforcing, the young man or woman learns to focus on external approval of appearance rather than creating a more mature, internally derived sense of self.

At a Young Age:

Another reason that eating disorders persist is that they often occur at such a young age. According to authors, Dr. James Lock and Dr. Daniel Le Grange, most cases of anorexia begin between the ages of 13 and 14 but can occur as young as 8 years old. The authors emphasize that the eating disorder usually begins casually with dieting. The progressive elimination of foods leads to pronounced weight loss and social approval, which reinforces the potentially malignant eating habits. Once firmly entrenched, the eating disorder can begin to disrupt a young person’s life with stress. Over the years, it will come and go at times of peak anxiety and challenge.

Thin Equals Power:

Tragically, weight becomes a scorecard of adequacy and many women equate being excessively thin with being in control and powerful in their own lives. The eating disorder is likely to linger into young adulthood especially if there has not been a strategic intervention by parents and psychologists. During this pivotal time, stressors that should be handled with healthy coping skills are dealt with through weight and rigid eating habits. Young men and women do not learn the coping skills required for handling food competently and for living a mature life. Instead, they are defeating stress and adversity through the eating disorder. Developmentally, they are not progressing as their same age peers and may continue to act out with food for years.

Older Women Also Affected:

Eating disorders are not only an affliction of the young. Current estimates of eating disorders in older women indicate that it is on the rise with up to 13% of older women reporting an eating disorder. The International Journal of Eating Disorders reports that 13% of women ages 50 and older stuggle with the problem and that the eating disorder may be a new phenomenon in older women. According to the author, Dr. Cindy Bulik, 79% of the women polled reported that their shape and weight affected how they viewed themselves.

Eating disorders are very serious conditions, and they can even be lethal. If you think you or someone you know may have an eating disorder, please seek the assistance of a clinical psychologist.

Sources:

National Institute of Mental Health (www.nimh.nih.gov)

The work of Dr Christopher Fairburn


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