National Eating Disorder Awareness Week draws attention to an important and widespread issue in our society. Many people know what it is like to look in the mirror and not be satisfied with the reflection staring back. Everyone wants to feel confident about their body image. But despite prevalent assumptions, eating disorders are not a passing fad or phase in the lives of young men and women. They are mental health disorders. Although specific groups such as athletes and teenage girls are more susceptible, eating disorders do not discriminate between gender, age and circumstances.
It is easy to focus on the impact of the media on body image: the inadequacy people feel when they see scantily clad models strutting down the runway on national television, or the way weight loss is emphasized in magazines and advertisements, and present day culture as a whole. But taking away these images is not going to change the aversion people feel when looking at their reflection in the mirror. It will not change their longing to control their appearance through excess dieting. The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders states that more than 50 percent of people with eating disorders meet the criteria for depression. The effects of an eating disorder can sometimes be more mental then physical.
To properly understand and address eating disorders, it is important to recognize they are only partially affected by culture and media. They are more directly related to self-confidence, acceptance of body image and dedication to the importance of health and well-being. They are also fueled by the need for control and stability. The three most common eating disorders are anorexia, bulimia and binge eating. All three of these are physical and emotional illnesses; eating disorders cultivate insecurities, shame and desperation. Anorexia is typically characterized by a constant need for control, where as people who suffer from bulimia and binge eating lack control in the moment and are ridden by guilt after the fact.
Eating disorders have many health consequences. People who struggle with eating disorders are at a higher risk for heart failure, dehydration, diabetes, tooth decay and more. Anorexia, which is essentially self-starvation, deprives the body of necessary nutrients. This can have deadly consequences on natural bodily functions. Eating disorders also have devastating consequences on mental well-being. The National Institute of Mental Health states that the desire to control one’s diet is a cooping mechanism that can cover up deeper insecurities. Eating disorders are not just physical compulsions; they are psychological as well.
Overall, an eating disorder is not just the side effect of bad dieting or unhealthy eating habits. It is an all-consuming, and sometimes life-threatening, disease that can influence all facets of life.
While the media certainly does nothing to help the epidemic, it is not the sole perpetrator. In order to properly address eating disorders, we need to address the underlying psychological issues.
Sydney Parker is a freshman with an undeclared major.