Eating Disorders and Socio-Cultural Factors
There is no single cause of eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder, but rather it is believed that a variety of personal, family, interpersonal, biological and socio-cultural factors combine to spur the development of an eating disorder. This combination may be different for each individual suffering from an eating disorder, but it is known that eating disorders flourish in societies that stress physical appearance and equate thinness with success. Thankfully, there is much that you can do to guard against these messages provoking an eating disorder in a loved one.
Socio-Cultural Factors Influencing Eating DisordersThough no causal links have been found, it is accepted by experts around the world that there are certain socio-cultural factors that influence the development of eating disorders. The two key factors in this category are a society or environment which places great importance on physical appearance, and a society or environment which equates thinness with achievement or success. Both of these factors are evident in Western society, and indeed eating disorders seem to flourish in the West. In fact, recent increases in the number of eating disorders diagnosed in males have at least partially been attributed to the strength of media images regarding male bodies - especially the message that all men should be lean and fit.
Unfortunately, it is believed that men are increasingly succumbing to these messages and developing eating disorders in an effort to either achieve this appearance or to “cope” with their unhappiness about their bodies.
Preventing Eating DisordersThe best ways to prevent eating disorders are to maintain a healthy balance in life and healthy outlook on life. A balance must be found between work/school with personal life, a healthy diet with occasional treats, and exercising for fun with an appropriate amount of rest and relaxation. A healthy outlook must be achieved to recognise the fact that weight and appearance are just one facet of a person and that all individuals have strengths and weaknesses. When this bigger picture is properly viewed, it is harder to get caught up with and put such great importance on appearance and weight. There is much that individuals, families and friends can do to support a healthy balance and healthy outlook and thus combat eating disorders before they develop. Some common attempts at preventing eating disorders include:
- Praising an individual’s talents and strengths – and one’s own.
- Listening to, and discussing, everyone’s thoughts, feelings and fears.
- Supporting an individual’s hopes and dreams – and one’s own.
- Reminding everyone that a healthy, though not necessarily a slim, body is best.
- Encouraging everyone to explore hobbies in which they are interested.
- Helping everyone make new friends who are also supportive of healthy living.
- Barring unrealistic and unhealthy diets and excessive exercise regimes.
For further information on socio-cultural factors and eating disorders, contact a GP, a private mental health specialist, or National Centre for Eating Disorders.