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Sample Paper on Dieting and Eating Disorders

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    The American diet is one of the most highly debated topics in our country. There are currently millions of obese Americans spread all across the United States and there are no signs of this epidemic slowing down. At the same time, mental health disorders relating to dieting are also at all time highs; anorexia, for example, has taken the lives of thousands.

    This sample health essay focuses on the troubling obesity epidemic and the appropriate tools Americans can take to stop this trend from touching other generations of people.

    When dieting becomes an eating disorder

    Many of the physical dangers of dieting are well known—for example, fad and “crash” diets rob a body of key nutrients and wreak havoc on the regulation of key hormones and chemicals such as insulin that leads to a stressed metabolism and digestive system, which in turn can lead to more severe health problems. Yet, media still focuses on the "perfect body" as a way to promote these temporary solutions.

    And while these physical dangers have been thoroughly discussed in magazines, on television and blogs and among health care professionals, what is considered less often is the relationship between dieting and eating disorders. When the purpose of a diet is focused more on body image than on health, the act of dieting might be the manifestation of an eating disorder. Therefore, it is important to understand that a person's mental health can be just as affected as their physical health. 

    Proper dieting takes planning

    A proper diet that is based on thoughtful caloric intake and responsible exercising is the ideal model that dieticians, physicians and physical health gurus advocate. However, the third part of this equation is intention—the motivation for why someone wishes to begin a diet. According to the National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC), a Canadian nonprofit organization in affiliation with the Ontario Ministry of Health:

    “a diet can be the first step in developing an eating disorder. By dieting we support the myth that we are only good, attractive and valuable if we look a certain way. We ignore the research, which shows that healthy, happy and successful people come in all shapes and sizes.” (www.nedic.ca)

    Furthermore, information on the NEDIC website concludes:

    “Diets don't work because our size and shape are largely decided by our genes. Yet, when our diet doesn't work we think it is our fault and that we have failed. This makes us feel even worse about ourselves.” (www.nedic.com)

    Three major eating disorders

    Without the right mental attitude, the common pitfalls and setbacks of dieting can easily reinforce negative assumptions about body image, willpower, and self-worth. Three eating disorders that can be linked to unhealthy expectations about dieting include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. 

    Anorexia Nervosa

    Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder in which the person affected believes he or she is overweight. The response is to eat less than is healthy and/or exercise excessively, typically resulting in malnourishment and being underweight.

    Bulimia Nervosa

    Bulimia nervosa is an eating condition in which the person affected eats and then  attempts to purge the calories through self-induced vomiting, abuse of laxatives, or an unhealthy amount of exercise.

    Binge Eating

    Binge eating is characterized by eating beyond the natural feeling of fullness or eating compulsively between meals.

    Additional Reading: Learn more about eating disorder statistics.

    Each of these disorders can develop in people who have an unhealthy body image or motivation for dieting and exercise based on social, psychological, and physical factors. According to the PBS documentary Perfect Illusions:

    Eating Disorders and the Family, psychological factors can include low self-esteem and an unhealthy obsession with being perfect. Couples with the social factors of either being teased or complimented because of body size and “cultural norms that value people on the basis of physical appearance, and not inner qualities and strengths.” (2002)

    It becomes easier to see how people can fall prey to negative reinforcement from themselves and the people around them or focus on the wrong elements of body image and not on health. Sometimes the books we read encourages these disorders.

    Dieting and eating disorders largely misunderstood

    Of course, eating disorders are more complex than just being conditions that spring from extreme dieting. Again, according to the documentary:

    "Scientists are still researching possible biochemical or biological causes of eating disorders. In some individuals with eating disorders, certain chemicals in the brain that control hunger, appetite and digestion have been found to be imbalanced. The exact meaning and implications of these imbalances remain under investigation.” (2002)

    Thus, because there seems to be a physical component to developing an eating disorder in addition to the mental and social factors, not all people who go on a diet will develop an eating disorder. 

    Takeways on dieting and eating disorders

    When considering a diet, people are told to constantly monitor their health and consult a doctor if a physical issue arises, such as feeling faint or dizzy. However, there is less discussion about what to do if a mental health challenge arises as a result of dieting, such as the compulsion to not eat or to exercise becomes too strong to resist. The purpose of going on a diet is to become healthier. In order for people to have the best chance of succeeding, they need to be physically—and mentally—prepared.

    References

    Case, P. (Director). (2002). Perfect illusions [Documentary]. USA: KCTS Television.

    National Eating Disorder Information Centre. (n.d.). National Eating Disorder Information Centre. Retrieved July 14, 2013, from http://www.nedic.ca/

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