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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
Dr. Schwartz's Weblog

Women and Disordered Eating Behaviors: A Media Problem?

Allan N. Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: May 8th 2008

 Self Magazine and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, working jointly, published the results of a survey of American women between the ages of 25 and 45. The number of women surveyed were 4,023 and came from every social, economic and ethnic group. A shocking 65% of the women surveyed reported having disordered eating behaviors. An additional 10% admitted to the types of symptoms consistent with anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder.

An amazing 31% of these women admitted to purging or using laxatives in an effort to lose weight. Some of these women stated that they had purged as often as several times each week and some even every day.

While not everyone in the survey had symptoms severe enough to meet the criteria of an eating disorder, most exhibited symptoms that they thought of as typical of an eating disorder. In other words, it is entirely possible to exhibit many symptoms of bulimia and anorexia without actually meeting the stricter DSM 1V criteria for the actual diagnosis.

For example, of the women surveyed:

1. 67% are trying to lose weight
2. 53% admit that they are at a normal weight but are still trying to lose weight.
3. 39% worries about what they eat or weigh interferes with their happiness.
4. 37% percent skip meals to lose weight
27% say they would be extremely upset if they gained 5 pounds
5. 16% have dieted on 1000 calories per day
6. 13% smoke to lose weight
7. 12% eat when they are not hungry.

It is important to recognize that binge eating is a serious problem for many of these women.

Discussion:

Having spent many years working with women with eating disorders I have a very good idea how serious this problem is.

I have seen clients enter the office depressed and agitated over what they ate and the amount they ate at an event such as a wedding, party or other celebration. I have had the experience of attempting to help women quit smoking only to be met with extreme resistance. Why did they resist quitting smoking? They understood the dangerous health risks connected with cigarettes and did not deny that reality. Yet, they doggedly refused to stop smoking because: THEY FEARED THEY WOULD GAIN WEIGHT AND WOULD RATHER RISK THEIR HEATLH, THEIR LUNGS AND THEIR LIVES RATHER THAN GAIN WEIGHT!!!

In My Opinion:

While eating disorders are as old as civilization and, therefore, is a complex and multi faced problem, I cannot help but focus on one possible causative area in the world today.

We live in a world of instant communication and mass media. Consequently, all of us are subjected to a relentless flow of information about everything. One major area where we are barraged with information is in the area of health and nutrition. For example:

1. We are warned about the dangers of being over weight.
2. We are warned about the dangers of hight fat diets.
3. We are warned about the dangers of high blood pressure.
4. We are warned about the dangers of a diet too low in cholesterol.

In fact, just today there was news that weight that is too low is just as dangerous as weight that is too high. On the same day I heard a report that fat around the hips might protect people against diabetes.

What is a person to do??????
I really believe that the public is "being driven crazy" by the contradictory information. For instance: "drinking is bad for your health," "moderate drinking is good for your health," "white wine will extend your life," "red wine will extend your life," etc.

I sometimes worry that all of this worry about what we eat is making all of us more sick than if we could just relax and enjoy our meals.

Might we be better off if we had less information?

What is your opinion? I look forward to your comments.

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at dransphd@aol.com for details.

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