The subject is nothing new, its severity is no secret and its prevalence increases: eating disorders are a theme of American culture.
According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), 24 million Americans suffer from an eating disorder. Eating disorders are an American epidemic. Yet despite the gravity of the condition, despite the sometimes fatal outcomes, eating disorders are generally dismissed and ignored by society.
I almost hesitate to write on the subject, for often it feels that all that can be said about eating disorders has been said. They have been analyzed, debated and understood. But since their presence in our society stands strong, there remains something to write about.
The general, societal conception of eating disorders is that they are born from the media—images of airbrushed models, weight-loss commercials, emaciated bodies of movie stars—the typical scapegoats. But even such awareness of where these disorders can come from has not helped cure or even ease the epidemic.
Surely, vanity and the media play a significant role. But there is a crucial piece of the crisis that is scarcely acknowledged: the emotional and mental state of disordered individuals as a consequence of the American lifestyle.
America may be the land of the free, the land of endless opportunities where money grows on trees. We may all be privileged and educated, but as evidenced by the shocking number of eating disorders, this society is not as easy to live in as we all seem to think.
According to ANAD, 95 percent of eating disorders occur between the ages of 12 and 25. This indicates that the disordering is occurring as our brains develop, as we grow up.
The root of the problem is that growing up in American society, we are privileged in global comparison, yet we are not adequately nourished. And by nourishment, I don’t mean food and water.
American youth is, in fact, over-nourished. Growing up, even with the best set of parents, we are over-nourished with the superficial: nice, clean clothes; cartoons; video games; and toys. We are introduced to a plethora of “needs” that are not necessary at all.
Distracted by all of the superfluous necessities, real nourishment seems to be either forgotten or undermined. I’m not a parent, but I do believe that nourishment can be quite simple—nourish in love, health and play.
Essentially, we grow up over-stimulated. Without realizing it, we forget the importance of taking care of ourselves, we ignore our real and basic needs of love and health and therefore lose compassion for ourselves.
Suddenly, American preteens become overwhelmed by their supposed needs and deprive or harm their physical selves as means of controlling their inner turmoil. Individuals realize that making the choice to skip lunch actually feels kind of good.
This, I believe, is where the eating disorder epidemic was born.
Individuals turn to eating disorders out of desperation, hoping that perhaps full-fledged bulimia might calm down the overwhelming, unrealistic American lifestyle.
This society is one vicious cycle. As Americans, we generally discourage and look down upon doing nothing. Relaxation is but a seldom treat. And when we do finally find some spare time to simply do nothing and abandon our toys, we realize who we have become, eating disorders and all. We then realize it’s a lot easier to ignore the reality and return to the over stimulation.
Eating disorders, in themselves, may be products of this vicious cycle, implemented in childhood. For whatever reason, the American lifestyle has cultivated a fear of sitting back and simply enjoying ourselves. But losing touch with the self and grasping the superficial guarantees subconscious chaos—an environment where eating disorders thrive.
It deeply discourages me when I ponder the strong connection between American lifestyle and eating disorders, as it seems Americans grow toward more stimulation, not less.
Society as a whole ignores the eating disorder epidemic because it feels too big to handle. But according to ANAD, eating disorders have the highest mortality of any mental illness. Isn’t it obvious that as a society, we can’t simply give up on this?
Millions upon millions are losing themselves, living in misery and depriving their bodies in the lifestyle we are all so addicted to. We owe it to them to spread the love. We owe self-compassion. We deserve taking time out of every day, simply to be with ourselves.
Contact CU Independent Opinion Editor Devon Barrow at Devon.firstname.lastname@example.org.