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Eating Disorders: When Food Becomes the Enemy

Bonnie Green
BIO 2240
Madonna University
January 17, 2014


Eating Disorders are a major problem in America, where food is very abundant, yet
people are obsessed with looking a certain way. Eating Disorders are found most frequently
among Caucasian girls and women, but more and more preadolescent boys and homosexual men
are developing Eating Disorders (Hospers, 2005). There are three main kinds of Eating
Disorders: Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Binge-Eating Disorder. They can be caused
by a chemical imbalance in the brain, poor self-esteem, peer or family pressure, or a severe
obsession with food. This paper explores each Eating Disorder in detail, along with ways to treat
and prevent Eating Disorders, as well as current research being done to help those suffering with
Bulimia Nervosa.

Eating Disorders: When Food Becomes the Enemy
In America, there is an obsession with food; people need to have refrigerators stuffed
with food, all different kinds of food. Yet, Americans are also obsessed with the perfect body
image for women (an hourglass figure composed of a tiny waist and high, perky breasts) and for
men (thin with washboard abs and rippling pectorals and biceps). When these two distorted
obsessions collide, people can develop Eating Disorders, a disease that disrupts the digestive
system. There are three main kinds of Eating Disorders (Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa,
and Binge-Eating Disorder), and they each have complex causes and treatments.
When somebody develops an Eating Disorder, there are usually many factors that cause
it. Sociocultural factors can include the nation-wide obsession with slimness despite an
abundance of food, idealized media images such as seemingly perfect models or actresses,
peer influence (Polivy et al., 2002), and familial issues such as tension within the family,
teasing by other family members, or abuse as a child. Cognitive factors that contribute to an
Eating Disorder include obsessive thinking (especially about food), impulsiveness (found more
so in Bulimia Nervosa), and perfectionism (dominantly in Anorexia Nervosa, as people with this
particular Eating Disorder strive to have what they consider a perfect body image) (Polivy et
al., 2002). The one thing that shows up most across the board with all Eating Disorders,
however, is that people are dissatisfied with their bodies and/or have a low self-esteem (Polivy et
al., 2002).
In America, the broadest group of people that are at risk for Eating Disorders are
Caucasian individuals, as
Among American women, blacks were thought to be protected from EDs [Eating
Disorders] owing to the reduced pressure on them to be thin. Black men prefer heavier

women than do white men (see e.g., Greenberg & Laporte 1996), and black women (e.g.,
Powell & Kahn 1995) and children (Thompson et al. 1997) have larger ideal physiques.
(Polivy et al., 2002)
Narrowing down even more, females tend to be the largest group that develop Eating Disorders,
up to ten times more than males do (Polivy et al., 2002), though Eating Disorders are becoming
more and more prevalent among preadolescent boys and homosexual men due to peer pressure
and body dissatisfaction (Hospers et al., 2005). Among women, those at risk the most for
Bulimia Nervosa are unmarried Caucasian women in their twenties or thirties (Insel et al.,
2013, p. 483). As before stated, Eating Disorders are more prevalent in countries where there is
a large and abundant food supply.
In Anorexia Nervosa, the symptoms can become serious and even deadly very quickly.
First, because an Anorexic person is starving him/herself, that person is less than eighty-five
percent of expected body weight; they have an intense fear of weight gain, a distorted idea of
body shape, weight, or size (Insel et al., 2013, p. 477). Women with Anorexia Nervosa will
probably develop Amenorrhea, or the abnormal ceasing of the menstrual cycle (Insel et al., 2013,
p. 477). People who have Bulimia Nervosa experience recurrent binge eating followed by
recurrent purging [in the form of forcing themselves to vomit or taking laxatives], excessive
exercise, or fasting (Insel et al., 2013, p. 477), and because they are getting rid of all the extra
calories that they take in (unhealthy though it may be), they have a relatively normal weight or
BMI, usually. Like Anorexics, Bulimics also have an excessive concern about body weight
(Insel et al., 2013, p. 477). An easy way to spot Bulimia Nervosa in someone is to see if s/he has
tooth decay due to the frequent vomiting; dentists and doctors sometimes work together to see if
a given patient is experiencing Bulimia Nervosa. Binge-Eating Disorder is like Bulimia Nervosa

in that people experiencing it will have frequent episodes of out-of-control eating (Brownell et
al. 2011), but there are no episodes of purging, exercising, or fasting; therefore, people with
Binge-Eating Disorder tend to be overweight (Insel et al., 2013, p. 477).
Because Eating Disorders are a multifaceted problem, treating them requires several
different approaches. One of the most important is that someone with an Eating Disorder
receives intensive psychotherapy. The therapist will help replace negative thoughts about food
or the patients body with positive ones and also figure out what caused the Eating Disorder. If
there is tension within the family, family therapy may also be necessary (Brownell et al., 2011).
Because Eating Disorders have to do with food, a Nutritionist will obviously be needed to
monitor the diet and prepare a meal plan for either weight gain with Anorexics or weight loss
with Binge-Eaters. A doctor may prescribe medication, from appetite stimulants to
antidepressants; the medication, however, is not a replacement for therapy (Brownell et al.,
2011). After therapy, the most important part of recovery for someone with Eating Disorders is
emotional support. Families should eat meals together on a regular basis, but keep it friendly and
stress-free (such as not mentioning stressful subjects like school) so that the recovering person
can enjoy the meal and not have anxiety to associate with eating (Brownell et al., 2011).
Preventing Eating Disorders relies a lot on education. Youth should be informed about
Eating Disorders; they should know the health implications if you fall into one. Families should
know about them too, as well as early signs so they can pose an intervention and realize how the
media affects the minds of children. As before stated, families should eat together regularly and
build a strong, healthy pattern when it comes to eating. It is also important to discourage dieting
in youth, as they are still growing and shouldnt restrict their nutrient intake; discourage

bullying; and to improve overall self-esteem of young girls and boys before they start having
distorted ideas about food and/or their body image (Smith).
Currently, a study on the treatment of Bulimia Nervosa is taking place in which the brain
is stimulated by magnetic waves, a process called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS). It
was used to treat 20 people who were either depressed or suffered from Bulimia Nervosa for up
to 20 years. Stimulation occurred in a part of the frontal lobes of the brain called the
dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, which is next to the brain region usually stimulated for treating
depression (Gholipour, 2013). Patients received twenty sessions of electrical stimulation daily
for four weeks; after the treatments were over, six patients saw binge-and-purge symptoms
almost completely disappear, and four saw symptoms improve by over fifty percent. (Gholipour,
2013). Obviously, the treatment isnt perfect, but it still helped some people, and, if the glitches
can be worked out, it can help a lot more who suffer with Bulimia Nervosa, depression, and
maybe even the other Eating Disorders.


Brownell, K. D. PhD, Hotelling, K. J. PhD, Lowe, M. R. PhD, & Rayfield, G. E. PhD. (2011,
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