The research seems to point to the fact that there is a strong genetic link and disposition related to people in the same family developing the eating disorder. In the mid-1990s, a European study derived from data found that women belonging to the same family developed the disorder at some point in their lives. The study mentions a genetic cause for the disease as well.
Other theories point to cultural factors, such as an emphasis on thinness. Many point to media’s focus and admiration of extremely thin women. Some discussions point to the gene existing but the disease being triggered by external factors including media and other cultural factors. In some cases, women are more predisposed to anorexia because of the emphasis on dieting as opposed to nutrition. One thing researchers did say was that the condition anorexia was linked to genetic factors in the same way schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder are.
While anorexics strive to become very thin, it is very different than being a person who is just very slender. For one, the diets of the two are very different. A person with a slender physique and who is in good condition with good habits will remain slender. An anorexic severely controls the intake of food. In fact, some would say that the lack of food that they eat is what kicks their bodies into starvation mode.
The biggest difference between an anorexic and a very thin person, though, is their diets. Anorexics eat very little and this wreaks havoc not only on their digestive system but on their metabolism as well. In fact, the condition really throws the body’s homeostatic condition out of whack because not only is the digestive system affected but the endocrine (hormones) system is affected by self-starvation as well.
Alternatively, a thin person with a balanced diet typically eats five meals a day. Three of the meals are large ones, and then they two smaller ones (snacks). Instead of treating food as an enemy, food is like fuel that is used to create energy through aerobic cellular respiration (the process of producing energy and storing fat). A thin person suffers few ailments when abiding by a healthy diet.
While the manifestations of this eating disorder can result in a deterioration of physical health, anorexia is a mental disorder. Some researchers have attributed the cause to a gene much in the way other psychiatric disorders. Anorexia is a disease based in a form of body dysmorphia where the person sees themselves as being heavier than they actually are. This distortion becomes the motivation behind not eating and some cases exercising excessively.
The physical illnesses that result from the eating disorder relate to the person not getting enough vitamins and nutrients to support bodily functions. Anorexics develop major problems associated with vitamin deficiencies (hair and nails) and endocrine problems. The condition can really wreak havoc with the body’s total homeostatic condition because it interferes with the metabolic processes (aerobic cellular respiration) that help the body creates energy (ATP) and store fat.
Anorexics who are healing have to get over the mental hurdle of eating food consistently while being able to gain weight safely (because putting weight on an severely underweight individual causes stress to the circulatory system).
Yes, while it might seem odd that an overweight person would have this condition, it is possible for an overweight person to be anorexic. Ultimately, an overweight person only need suffer from the three conditions (body dysmorphia, a fear of gaining weight, and a fear of food) for them to be considered an anorexic. In fact, many overweight people who severely reduce the amount of food they take in to lose weight can develop the same symptoms, as their digestive, endocrine, and pulmonary systems become stressed as a result of severely reducing their food intake on a daily basis.
Moreover, many overweight people assume that to lose weight that they have to dramatically reduce their food intake, and so it causes them to eat one big meal a day while starving the rest of the day. However, whenever unhealthy diet habits create a cycle where the body moves into starvation mode, the overweight person experiences the opposite effect because the body, in an attempt to hold onto fat, makes it difficult for them to lose weight. In essence, they suffer from the same physical ailments that skinny anorexics do, but they just carry more weight.
In total, there are four stages that people who suffer from this condition go through before, during, and after being treated for the disorder. The first stage involves the person exercising excessively. They might increase the number of hours each day to burn calories. The second stage involves the person thinking about taking supplements and dietary aids to lose or maintain their current weight. This stage also involves the person being very cautious about their food intake, whether it involves how much food they are going to eat, what they are going to eat, and how frequently they eat.
The third stage involves the person not only being restrictive about their food intake but also about how many calories they are consuming. Thoughts of how many calories that are consumed versus burned weigh heavily on their minds, and it is not uncommon to see them push their food around on their plates. Sometimes, they might chew the food and then spit it out. Physical symptoms might include dark circles around their eyes and just the appearance of looking gaunt.
Finally, the person actually begins to look in the mirror for signs that they actually lost weight. They might look at their ribs and back to see if they are showing. Moreover, isolation is a part of this stage where they eat alone and decline offers to eat out as to avoid detection.
There are no known pharmaceutical drugs that address this condition specifically, but medical professionals typically will prescribe drugs that address mental health issues to anorexics because anorexia often accompanies other mental conditions. However, when addressing this condition, mental health professionals often have to take a multi-pronged approach to healing the individual.
The first part of dealing with the anorexic relates to their diet. With a dietician or another food nutritionist, the patient will be counseled on appropriate food choices, and then the person is also given ownership of their nutritional intake. As a part of counselling, the anorexics will have to contribute to the discussion as it relates to what they believe is appropriate food choices.
Then, there are the different approaches to healing the person psychologically, so they no longer fear eating, food, and more importantly, gaining weight. For adolescents suffering from the condition, they usually enter family therapy, and adults can be counseled in a number of different ways. Some of the more common therapies include cognitive analytic therapies, cognitive behavioral therapies, interpersonal therapy, and focal psychodynamic therapy. Alternative approaches to healing someone with this condition are acupuncture, meditation, yoga, and massages.
One of the main physical problems that result from this condition is the effect of starvation on the endocrine system. The endocrine system is the hormonal system that regulates human biochemistry. Part of human biochemistry is the hormones that regulate the reproductive system. When the hormonal levels are unbalanced, women who suffer from this disease are affected in a few ways.
In addition to suffering from hypothyroidism, which can result female reproductive problems like infertility vaginal dryness, and other problems, but the disease can also affect the hormones that regulate the female cycle.
In severe cases, women can suffer from amenorrhea, which is simply a cessation in the cycle. This happens because the body’s weight drops below a certain threshold triggering the normal processes of the female body to stop. This is just one condition that affects the female body, but anorexia wreaks havoc on other parts of the human condition, including and more importantly the endocrine system (hormones).
In a society where there are so many options and where there are so many ways that people can be influenced, one cannot just blame a condition that is this complex on just one factor. The disease itself is rooted in sociocultural problems, but pre-existing psychological conditions combined with genetics are also at play when discussing the roots of anorexia. Typically, when a person develops this condition, they have at least one or more of the above conditions.
Not that social media standards of beauty are totally irrelevant in the discussion because there is a lot to be said about a society that continues to eschew one body type over others. In fact, when there are no realistic depictions of beauty presented in media, then it is only natural for this distortion to influence the larger populous.
To answer the question, while social media beauty standards are only one part of the sociocultural problems, it can in many ways exacerbate an anorexic’s distortion of what is normal body type.
Researchers have found a connection between relatives having the condition within the same family. However, genetics plays just one part in determining whether a person will develop the condition. There are a few external factors that determine whether or not a person will develop this condition. For one, culture plays a huge role in determining whether or not a person is at risk for developing this condition. In Western culture, media plays a huge role in influencing people (mostly women) to believe in unrealistic depictions of the human body, and this can exacerbate the condition itself.
In some Eastern cultures, control is a huge part of the cultural mapping and so it can play a role in exacerbating a condition in which the individual has great control in a society where they have to give up a lot of their own personal freedoms. Then, there are other conditions that often are present when this eating disorder is present. Mental conditions like depression, bipolar disorders, and other psychological issues can impact this eating disorder. One cannot say that genetics is always a reason a person develops the condition, especially when research links the condition to genetics and these other factors.