This is a guest post written by an associate of Recovery Pride. Ms. Peterson’s mission is to celebrate sobriety and those who achieve it.
Though an eating disorder can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, social class, or ethnicity, there are certain risk factors that make an eating disorder more likely for certain people. If someone you know has one or more of these risk factors, preventative counseling may be able to save them from a painful, potentially severe disorder. While there are many risk factors for these illnesses, here are some of the more common factors for developing an eating disorder.
One of the biggest risk factors for an eating disorder is low self-esteem. Particularly common in young adults, low self-esteem can lead a person to seek a “quick fix” for their physical appearance. Bulimia or anorexia seem like a fast, easy way to achieve the “ideal” body shape for both men and women alike. Of course, societal pressure to look good is far greater on women, and it is twice as likely that a woman will develop an eating disorder.
People who do not know how to express negative emotions in a positive way tend lean toward self-harm as an outlet. Eating disorders are a common form of self-harm and are far easier to conceal than cutting. This often goes hand in hand with other mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety.
Professions with Strict Body Type Molds
Anorexia and bulimia are very common for individuals involved with activities such as gymnastics, ballet, dancing, modeling, and other traditionally thin professions. As many of these build muscle, the individual may believe that their weight gain is in relation to fat rather than muscle. This weight gain can lead them to an eating disorder in an attempt to maintain the body type demanded by their professions
Many eating disorders start out as dieting and evolve into something far worse. With Western society’s obsession with fast results, diet pills or fasting may be used to achieve a dieting goal quickly. This can very easily become habitual, transforming into the mental illness that is an eating disorder. Once the habit is set, it is very difficult to prevent the eating disorder.
Overt Concern with the Opinion of Others
People who feel the need for approval tend to become extreme in their behaviors. Whether that means wearing excessive makeup, dressing in expensive clothes, or maintaining a certain figure, someone with this mental preoccupation is more likely to resort to unhealthy dieting.
Exposure to Eating Disorders
When someone is exposed to a friend or family member who has an eating disorder, they become more likely to develop one themselves. The idea is planted and, with the help of other risk factors such as low self-esteem, an eating disorder is all too likely.
Cultural Definition of Beauty as Synonymous with “Thin”
In many major cultural groups, beauty is inextricably linked with thinness. While this beauty standard is more often applied to women, there is certainly a thin and fit mold men are expected to fill in order to be considered attractive. Striving for beauty can very easily lead a person down a dark path and into an eating disorder.
If you recognize that someone you know has one or more of these risk factors, there are several paths you can take. You may consider preventative counseling to treat any conditions that can result in eating disorders. You might educate the person on eating disorders and make them aware of their risk, or you can remain vigilant for any signs that an eating disorder is developing. Regardless of how you respond, remember that early treatment is key.
Note: If you are struggling with an eating disorder, there is hope! You CAN overcome it, and you CAN live a meaningful, productive and happy life. If you are in recovery and are in need of encouragement and support, please visit Recovery Pride (http://recoverypride.org/).