Eating disorders are conditions which are defined by abnormal eating habits; these may involve either insufficient or excessive food intake both of which can have a detrimental effect on an individual’s physical and mental health. Bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa are the most common specific forms in the United Kingdom. NICE estimate that 1.6 million people in the UK (mainly women)have an eating disorder; 10% of that figure have anorexia, 40% bulimia and 50% is an unspecified disorder. Some believe that this figure is massively underestimated as eating disorders are, by their nature, very secretive. Many people have huge problems around food, mealtimes are a battleground, they are on a constant merry-go round of diets and breaking diets-but they never seek a diagnosis.In fact this state of affairs has almost become normal.
Eating disorders are often blamed on the social pressure to be thin, as young people in particular feel they should look a certain way.It is certainly true that it is rare to see a model in a magazine who is over a size 6 and nearly every woman I know aspires to be thin, or at least thinner than she is. Our modern obsession with body image has created an unhealthy relationship with food which is all-pervasive.I never remember my grandparents worrying about calories or ‘being good.’In the past two decades, the diet industry has become so powerful that up to 70 per cent of women report being on a diet at any given time, with many having an unhealthy preoccupation with food, regardless of their weight. This is a modern phenomenon which is making us unhappy with our appetites and giving us a sense of anxiety and guilt when we should simply be enjoying our food. Sufferers may deny themselves anything to eat, even when very hungry, or may eat constantly, or binge. The subject of food, or how much they weigh becomes an obsession. Food can become an addiction and being ‘addicted’ to food presents huge problems, because we need to eat to live; so if you have an eating disorder, you have no choice but to wrestle with this problem every day.Food in the Western culture where we have limitless options is about more than simply re-fuelling our bodies-if it was, there wouldn’t be an obesity crisis.I am as guilty as most mothers of rewarding my children’s good behaviour with a special treat which can often be a chocolate bar or sweets. As one psychologist wrote:” Getting ice cream as a reward puts a value on it that is much higher than that of frozen milk – it becomes acknowledgment, approval and even a pleasure and decadence that we should allow ourselves only on those rare occasions when we are being very good.”
Eating disorders can be more complex of course; they can be about feeling control over one part of a life which is perhaps chaotic, they can be about OCD, they can be a coping mechanism to help avoid any other problems, they can be about being fiercely competitive or a perfectionist.It makes one wonder what sort of society we live in when so few of us are comfortable with our appetites and struggle to be happy with the way we look.In an ideal world, our acceptance of who we are should be unconditional, not based on calorie intake or dress size.