Does this make me look fat?

by Lynda Brogdon, Ph.D.
From The
Tallahassee Woman Magazine October/November 2008

How many times have you heard this question asked, or, how many times have you asked this question yourself?If the answer is “a lot” then you are not in the minority.

The focus on thinness and flawlessness has escalated in our country since the beginning of the 60’s.  Twiggy arrived as a new model in our country and set a trend that shook our culture and established a precedence that still dictates the standards for models today.  Prior to the 60’s models were approximately 10 percent under ideal body weight, while today it is not uncommon for models to be 22 to 25 percent under their ideal weight. Today’s technology can create the perfect look on the screen as well as magazine covers that invites not only the youth of our nation to immolate but females of all ages as well.

Can we blame one person for the eating disorder epidemic that exists in our society and currently affects approximately 14 million people with about 90 percent being female? The answer is absolutely not. So, you ask, then what or who is to blame for the rising number of victims who suffer from eating disorders? The reason one person develops an eating disorder can be similar to another’s but very different at the same time. However, there are a number of contributing variables that include but are certainly not limited to:

  • The need to be perfect
  • Wanting approval
  • Fear of failure
  • Feelings of inadequacy
  • The need to be in control and to be accepted
  • Difficulty knowing when enough is enough
  • Neurochemical imbalances that lead to depression and anxiety.

Females by nature are often comparative and self critical. They frequently compare not only their personal physical traits but countless other things as well; grades, accomplishments in sports, their children’s performance, how they excel at work, how much they get accomplished at home and they often negatively judge and critically evaluate their outcome.

Most people who develop an eating disorder often start out to accomplish something positive — maybe lose five pounds, become more flexible, have more energy, cut out junk foods, or for some males their goal is to actually gain weight. Somewhere along the way they lose sight of their purpose and become obsessed with weight loss or get stuck compulsively trying to maintain control and fall in the trap of over exercising, abusing laxatives, inducing vomiting, binge eating or restricting intake sometimes to 200 calories a day.

This is hard to understand for those who have not fallen prey to a diagnosable eating disorder. Most people in our society today have gone on a diet, not liked how they looked or felt in their clothing, thought some part of their body looked too big or just wanted bathing suit season to be over.But, we are not talking about a bad hair day when we discuss eating disorders. We are talking about a group of disorders that constitute a psychiatric syndrome. They are much like having a dark personality co-exist with the person’s real personality. As strange as this may sound, the dark personality dictates the person’s thoughts, affects their actual visual perception of themselves and torments them if they do not follow its direction. The eating victim definitely is not crazy but often feels as though they are and frequently are fearful of disclosing anything about their eating disorder to anyone. They often are unaware of the eating disorder’s existence until it has become a part of their everyday life and then they are afraid of giving it up because many times they are uncertain about who they will be without it.

Both the severity and the incidence of eating disorders have increased during the recent years now making their negative consequences the leading cause of death in young females. Over 500,000 people lose their lives to eating disorder in our country yearly. To put this in perspective, imagine that you are sitting at a home game at Florida State University and suddenly everyone in attendance was dead.  Then, imagine that this tragedy occurred for each home game for the remainder of the season.  That unbelievable number would still under-represent the overwhelming loss of deaths to eating disorders in the United States each year.

Treatment is necessary for most people who struggle with eating disorders.  Recovery is possible with appropriate care. Outpatient and residential care is often needed to interrupt the destructive cycle of Anorexia and Bulimia as well as Binge Eating Disorders.  A multidimensional approach is the most effective; individual, group and family therapy as well as art, music, movement, nutritional, spirituality and equine therapies.

As a parent please monitor your child’s mood, self confidence, relationship with friends, eating patterns, critical statements made about themselves, as well as keeping an eye on your statements regarding your body and how you feel about yourself.  Parenting today is a challenge; there is a fine line between effective parenting and nagging.

If you would like to have additional information on assessing when you, a friend or your child may be crossing the line between everyday concerns and developing eating disorder tendencies please feel free to contact us at Canopy Cove 850-893-8800 or we invite you to go to our website at www.canopycove.com.