How Culture Influences Eating Disorders

How Culture Influences Eating Disorders



Another great and insightful piece by our friends at Castlewood Treatment Centers! Just in time for…  ANYTIME you need additional insight on BED 😉

One of the difficulties in diagnosing and treating a binge eating disorder is the fact that, in most cases, there is no single root cause, no one factor that causes an individual to develop one of these life-threatening conditions.

Family dynamics, personal stress, co-occurring mental disorders, genetics—all of these can be factors in the development of an eating disorder.

But where does culture factor into the equation? Perhaps culture can’t create a binge eating disorder, but can it trigger one, or exacerbate one already present?


Studying Culture’s Effects on Eating Disorders

These are questions science has been seeking to address for a long time now. In 1999, a study was published on the topic of Western culture and its effects on body image. The results were compelling.

What researchers found was that, prior to having any real exposure to Western culture; the people of remote Fiji had a very specific set of body image ideals. They believed that the most beautiful human bodies were round, plump, and soft.

Researchers interviewed some of Fiji’s residents just 38 months after the introduction of Western TV, and what they found was startling. There was a marked decline in self-esteem, and there was a marked increase in the symptoms associated with eating disorders.


Cultural Messaging

When you think about this startling account, it is probably not so surprising. To spend any time at all immersed in our Western culture is to be inundated with messages about how we are supposed to look, what the ideals for beauty truly are. And other global cultures send messages of their own.

Think about product advertisements telling you to lose weight. Think about the models on glossy magazine covers. Think about how restaurants and food manufacturers market their products in terms of guilt—i.e., pledging “guilt-free” meals and not-so-subtly suggesting that you should feel guilty about some of the foods you ingest.

All of these cultural signals can trigger a problem with binging, purging and or restricting food—not through anything overt, but through insinuations about the kind of body one should have, or the kind of relationship to food.

The point is not that these cultural messages cause eating disorders. However, for those who may already be predisposed to a binge disorder, these messages can be like triggers, exacerbating the psychological or genetic factors that are already in play.


Is Recovery Possible?

Of course, recovery from a binge disorder is very possible—but it is not without challenges. Some of those challenges are intrinsic to culture; however, it is not something you have to face alone.

There are ways you can shield yourself against cultural messaging. Of course, seeking clinical treatment for your eating disorder—and remaining committed to a support structure—is the first step. You need people speaking positive words into your life in order to counteract some of the negativity found in your culture.

Being aware of personal triggers is another aspect to consider. You will not be able to avoid every single trigger, but going through it with a support team can make the task less daunting.


Culture may not be on your side as you fight for recovery—but the good news is you can recover with support and by surrounding yourself with those who encourage loving your body and yourself.

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