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Where do Eating Disorders Come From?

By Gretchen Smith, MA, LMFTA, Seattle Christian Counseling

EXTERNAL CAUSES: Part I

ID-10085067I explored the five internal causes of eating disorders and I examined how the combination of a sinful nature, free will, spiritual depravity, and poor self-control can cause us to develop disordered eating habits. Though I believe eating disorders are mostly a result of an internal condition, there are external factors which play a role. In this third article in our series on the causes of eating disorders, I will look at two primary external factors that can contribute to developing an eating disorder: taste temptations and media pressure.

External Cause #1: Taste Temptations

Cartons of Häagen-Dazs®, boxes of prepackaged cream-filled cupcakes, and bags of potato chips haven’t been around forever. Today, entire supermarket aisles are dedicated to high fat, sugar-laden, chemical-sprayed, preservative-soaked, artificially colored and flavored treats that are as powerfully addictive as cocaine. The proliferation of restaurants, 24-hour supermarkets, and convenience stores has increased the accessibility of every imaginable food, including those that are extremely harmful to the body.

Human beings were never designed to cope with what professional literature sometimes refers to as “highly palatable foods”—that is the artificial super-sweet, super-salty, and often super-fatty concoctions that are presented to us as “food.” Significant support has amassed for overeating and binge eating as behavioral addictions. Yet the idea that people can become chemically dependent on certain foods in the same way that others become dependent on drugs continues to raise controversy.  Yet similarities between overeating and substance abuse disorders are difficult to ignore.  The parallels between drug and food addicts are striking: both groups experience cravings that compel them to abuse the body despite detrimental consequences. Other parallel activities include denial, preoccupation, reprioritization, increasing use, guilt following use, and relapse.  In addition, researchers have discovered a common neurobiological pathway that suggests uncontrolled eating and obesity alters the brain in ways similar to drug abuse.  These brain adaptations potentially reinforce the abuse by increasing compulsivity and decreasing self-control (Joranby, Pineda, & Gold, 2005; Volkow & Wise, 2005).

External Cause #2: Media

ID-100175971In modern, technologically advanced nations, we have such widespread and sophisticated media that it is impossible to avoid exposure. Radio, television, books, magazines, posters, motion pictures, and the Internet inundate us daily with images and criteria of beauty. People, especially women, are taught that physical attractiveness, as defined by the society we live in, is our most important asset. A fear is hammered into us day after day, year after year, from the day we are born, that if we are not pretty or handsome or thin, we will not be loved and that we do not even deserve to be loved. Worse still, the mindset created by this propaganda has led to a society of people who behave in such a way that many do experience rejection based upon their physical appearance alone. The body has become an idol for many, many people, and the pursuit of thinness or physical excellence a driving obsession.

The same media that demands physical perfection from us also cruelly entices us with pictures and descriptions of a variety of tempting foods. Not surprisingly, many people find themselves locked into a war of desperately wanting the very foods that will undermine their quests for beauty. Upon losing that battle, one way or the other, the guilt, shame, and terror can be so overwhelming for particular people that harmful behavior patterns emerge, which we call eating disorders.

Finding Hope in Christian Counseling

There are so many reasons why people develop eating disorders, and in today’s world, the pressures that cause us to develop these habits are so various that eating disorders have become an epidemic. If you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is help available. Seeking the advice of a qualified Christian counselor can offer new hope where hope seems lost. Through professional therapy and Biblical counsel, you can rediscover what it means to love your body as God intended.

Images cc: freedigitalphotos.net – “Lady Measuring Her Waist with Tape” by sattva and “Hamburger” by tiverylucky

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