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Feature Articles: Eating Disorders


When dieting becomes dangerous

Tammy Roberts, MS, RD, LD, nutrition and health education specialist in Barton County, University of Missouri Extension

Many people make plans to go on diets to get rid of unwanted weight. For some, what starts out as a desire to shed a few pounds turns into an eating disorder.

According to the Eating Disorder Sourcebook by Carolyn Costin, dieting is a risk factor for developing an eating disorder. Boys and men can be diagnosed with an eating disorder, but 95-97 percent of all cases are female patients.

Eating disorders are complex conditions that are thought to be a symptom of another issue such as low self-esteem, feelings of inadequacy, or lack of control. The disordered eating is a way of nurturing or protecting oneself. People with eating disorders turn to food or eating rituals to meet their emotional needs. The eating behavior that they adopt becomes necessary for the person to continue to feel whole. Our society provides positive feedback for weight loss. It is unfortunate that positive feedback is reinforcing unhealthy behaviors that lead to eating disorders.

There may be other causes of eating disorders. Research is being done on possible biochemical or biological causes. Medication has helped some people but has not proven to be the answer for others. In some cases it is thought that the chemical disturbance is caused by the eating disorder rather than a cause of the disorder. Nutritional deficiencies are also associated with eating disorders both as a cause and effect. Research continues in this area.

Interpersonal and social factors can contribute to eating disorders. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, interpersonal factors can include troubled family and personal relationships, difficulty expressing emotions and feelings, history of being teased about size or weight, or history of abuse. Social factors include cultural pressures to be thin. Our society tends to idolize the tall thin “model” body for women but only 2 percent of the population is actually built that way. Another social factor is that our culture often values people based on physical appearance rather than other qualities.

According to the Eating Disorder Sourcebook, people who recover from eating disorders attribute their success to having the loving support of friends and family as the crucial factor. Knowing that someone loved and cared for them and would not give up on them provided the incentive to overcome the illness. If you know someone who is struggling with food issues, it is advisable to get help from a medical professional.



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Last update: Monday, February 22, 2010