A society obsessed with thinness and a media that objectifies women’s bodies have resulted in the rise of eating disorders in general and among women in particular.
Women find themselves under immense pressure to look “perfect,” which gives rise to eating disorders like anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating.
Anorexia nervosa, commonly known as anorexia, can be caused by an acute fear of gaining weight, which makes subjects avoid eating foods that are high in calories. They may also restrict food quantities or may not eat at all for multiple days. Sufferers of anorexia may have lower body weight and may lose their periods as a consequence, but people with a higher body may still suffer from anorexia if their behavior involves the restriction of food. Long-term effects of anorexia include insomnia, bone density loss, hair loss, depression, and anxiety among others. Among women, it can have a long term impact on fertility.
Bulimia Nervosa is an eating disorder where a sufferer alternates between eating and purging. Food is consumed within a short space of time after which the sufferer is overcome by guilt and purges the consumed food through self-induced vomiting or use of laxatives. Other ways to keep their weight in control can be over-exercising or water fasting. Bulimia can cause long term physical as well as psychological damage to the sufferer as it can lead to depression and even suicide in extreme cases.
Binge Eating: Around 2% of the world population is affected by this eating disorder, which is characterized by the consumption of large amounts of food in short intervals even if one is not hungry. The sufferer of this disorder may feel a sense of relief or satisfaction while eating but usually experiences feelings of shame and failure or lack of control after. This condition as with anorexia and bulimia is associated with psychological disorders like PTSD, depression, or anxiety.
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Women far outnumber men as sufferers of eating disorders. This unevenness is very likely due to how women’s bodies are and have historically been objectified and how women are taught to see thinness as an indicator of inner worth. There are likely genetic and psychological factors influence rates of eating disorders in women as well.
Here are 10 ways to prevent eating disorders especially in women:
- Avoid media that glorifies thinness or ideal body size or shape. Challenge the common notions of a ‘perfect body’ or ‘weight loss’ programs.
- Eat intuitively according to what your body wants and not what a diet tells you to.
- Avoid categorizing food as good and bad. A balanced diet is necessary as our bodies need a variety of foods to stay nourished and healthy. A diet that is focused on whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes is healthy; however, it should always have room to enjoy all other kinds of food in moderation.
- Avoid passing judgments on yourself or others based on the quantity of food one consumes or body weight/shape.
- Promote a healthy body image in self and others and be open to the fact that healthy bodies can come in different shapes.
- Practice unconditional love of self and others and appreciate self and others based on your positive qualities and character rather than body weight or shape.
- Women often suffer in silence from eating disorders. Consider breaking the silence and speaking to a friend.
- Understand that at different times of life, your body might look different. Women often gain weight during adolescence, pregnancy, and menopause. This is normal and not something to beat yourself up about.
- If you are a parent, encourage your children to eat according to their hunger, avoid demonizing foods, and be an example to them by showing satisfaction with your body shape and size.
- Finally, if you are experiencing obsessive thoughts about food or stress about your body size, consider seeing a therapist who specializes in eating disorders.