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
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.
Last update: Monday, February 22, 2010