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Cultural Influences on Eating Disorders

by Nancy Riggins-Hume, LCSW

Anywhere you look in today's society, there are mixed messages about weight, eating, and food. Women's magazine covers show photos of luscious desserts,
while advertising the latest weight-loss fad right next to them. Websites abound with diet tips, exercise plans, and encouragement to find something to hate about your body. Restaurants serve gigantic portions, and the obesity rate in America has steadily risen over the past decade.

For women with eating disorders, cultural influences seem particularly powerful. Remarks made by parents, friends, teachers or other perceived authority figures can result in distorted body images. Karen Carpenter reacted to a review referring to her as chubby at a time when she was 5'4" and weighed 145 lbs. From 1973, she began losing weight, and her belief remained that she was fat even when she weighed 80 lbs. She died in 1983 as a result of anorexia and bulimia. Oprah Winfrey is another celebrity who has visibly struggled with weight issues over the years.

Sadly, it is almost impossible to get healthy messages about food, diet and exercise in the US. On one side, there are websites that refer to "Ana" for anorexia and "Mia" for bulimia as positive, and on the other, are groups
such as the International Size Acceptance Association, that advocate acceptance of obesity as normal and natural. Then there are television shows such as Extreme Makeover or Carnie Wilson's promotion of bariatric surgery through Spotlight Health.

It is important to recognize that your innate value has nothing to do with your appearance. You are not your body, and who you are is more important than what you look like. If you are experiencing an eating disorder, please
seek help.

Nancy Riggins-Hume, LCSW
UBH Public Sector

  

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