By: Jingyi Qi
One of the most precipitating factors in the development of EDs is dieting. Although dieting may not be the direct cause of eating disorders, it is often a precursor. The National Eating Disorders Association reports that 35% of “normal dieters” progress to pathological dieting and that 20-25% of those individuals develop EDs. Dieting is normalized in our society. It has been reported that approximately 45 million Americans diet each year and spend $33 billion on weight-loss products in their pursuit of a trimmer, fitter body. To understand dieting as a precursor of EDs, it is important to investigate the motives underlying the decision-making process related to dieting choices.
Moreover, mass media and advertisements impact body image dissatisfaction and aggravate the development of EDs. One industry that reflects gender differences in ideal body types and standards of beauty is the food industry. For example, while protein bars, with a focus on muscle building, are marketed towards men, nutrition bars target “health and weight-conscious” customers and, thus, are marketed more towards women. By placing a value on gaining specific weights and body shapes, food companies successfully market dieting products and, simultaneously, highlight the gender-related ideal body types.
However, EDs are difficult to treat and, for a significant percentage of patients, successful treatments are elusive. Nutritional counseling, individual and group psychotherapy, and talk therapy are all treatment options for EDs, yet none are 100% successful. It is important to acknowledge sociocultural factors in the development of EDs in addition to the biological and genetic causes. Thus, understanding the socially constructed ideas underlying the persistence of people’s maladative eating behaviors is helpful in developing successful treatment programs. Recent studies suggest that many people derive happiness from engaging in weight-loss behaviors, which prevents them from correcting unhealthy eating habits. Hence, discouraging adherence to cultural norms and encouraging body positivity is an important strategy to overcome EDs. It is time to blur the distinction in gender roles and gender differences, to reconstruct an idea of loving your own body, and to shift the social emphasis on physical appearance to a broader definition of beauty.
If you know someone who has EDs or display early symptoms of EDs, please talk with this person and refer him or her to a nutritionist or therapist if necessary. It is hard to fight alone, and we are stronger when we are together. Please visit the National Eating Disorder Association for resources or contact your physician.
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