Introduction To Eating Disorders

We live in an image conscious culture, which urges all of us (especially women) to improve our appearance. The messages sent by magazines, t.v., and other media include "buy certain clothes and products; straighten and whiten your teeth; get rid of your wrinkles; and most commonly, LOSE WEIGHT and you will be happy, admired, and loved." The recent and recurrent debate concerning the unhealthy, stick thin models used in the fashion industry is a perfect example of how strongly entrenched our notion of "thinness equals happiness" has become.

Although many of us would benefit from eating a bit less and exercising more in order improve our health and fitness, simply watching what you eat is NOT an eating disorder. Eating Disorders are potentially life-threatening illnesses which are simultaneously psychological and physical in nature. They are characterized by a range of abnormal and harmful eating behaviors which are accompanied and motivated by unhealthy beliefs, perceptions and expectations concerning eating, weight, and body shape. As a general characterization, individuals with eating disorders tend to have difficulty accepting and feeling good about themselves. They tend to think of themselves as "fat" and "ugly" because of their body size and shape, even when this self-judgment is objectively inaccurate and false. Identifying and defining themselves according to their perceived "fatness", eating disordered people tend to conclude that they are unacceptable and undesirable, and as a result, feel quite insecure and inadequate, especially about their bodies. For them, controlling their eating behaviors is the logical pathway in their quest for thinness.

The current article is designed to provide you with more information about the nature of eating disorders, their causes, potential treatments, and strategies for prevention. This information can be helpful in determining whether you or someone you love has an eating disorder. Before we begin, though, we want to stress two important points:

First, if you (or someone you love) have an eating disorder, YOU ARE NOT ALONE! Between 5 and 10 million Americans have anorexia or bulimia and another 25 million suffer with binge eating disorder. Hopefully, knowing that other people have experienced what you are going through, and have gotten better with treatment, will provide you with some sense of hope.

Second, don't rely on your "willpower" to get over this condition. As mentioned previously, an eating disorder is a serious, potentially life-threatening disease. Between 6% and 20% of eating disordered individuals will literally die as a result of their disease. Seek PROFESSIONAL help for yourself or someone you love as soon as possible if you suspect there is a problem.