The American culture is inundated with an obsession to be thin and the contradictory overwhelming availability of unhealthy food. Think about it – magazine covers, ads, television commercials – either portray models and actors with a very small or fit physique and yet the portion sizes and calorie counts of many meals offered at restaurants contain the daily recommended caloric intake in just one meal.
These two faults of Western culture have not slipped into society without causing a severe amount of damage. In 2018, obesity was recorded in 42.4% of the American population. It is estimated that approximately 30 million Americans struggle with an eating disorder, about 20 million women and 10 million men. These frightening statistics make it quite obvious that the American culture as a whole has an issue with creating and promoting a culture of health and wellness that, in turn, does not become an unhealthy obsession.
While obesity and eating disorders are linked, they are not the same thing, that is, most medical experts do not label obesity as an eating disorder. However, neither one nor the other is lessened in severity because of this. In fact, they both have “severe physical and mental health consequences.” Because of this, they most often require intervention on behalf of a medical specialist.
What is obesity
Obesity is defined by the World Health Organization as having a BMI (body mass index) over 30, which puts an individual at high risk for health problems like cancer, heart disease, diabetes and stroke.
Many factors contribute to a person’s struggle with obesity, including:
- Genes – Certain genetic predispositions that might cause one person to maintain excess weight might not be present in another person
- Caloric intake – Certain bodies burn calories faster or more efficiently than others, but if the number of daily calories burned is significantly less than the number of calories consumed in a day, weight gain will result.
- Exercise – American’s just don’t exercise as regularly as they should, nor are one’s daily routines prone to working the body. Instead of doing manual labor, many spend their days commuting in a car and sitting at a desk, with little extra time to be spent at the gym or going on a walk or bike ride outdoors.
- Neglecting meal time – American’s are enabled to eat on the run as food is available for purchase everywhere. This lack of taking the time to prepare a meal and sit down to enjoy it is likely to throw off the body’s internal satiety regulators, plus a majority of food purchased outside of the home contains more sugar, salt and fat than homemade meals.
Maintaining a healthy weight in today’s world is a challenge and it’s made no less easy with the potential factors of stress, depression and anxiety. This is where obesity may co-occur with an eating disorder or vice versa.
What is an eating disorder
According to the American Psychiatry Association, “Eating disorders are behavioral conditions characterized by severe and persistent disturbance in eating behaviors and associated distressing thoughts and emotions.” Eating disorders can be diagnosed under different categories including anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) and other specified feeding or eating disorder (OSFED).
Just like obesity, there are a variety of causes of an eating disorder, including environmental, biological and psychological factors, trauma and the control paradox. For many eating disorders, the most promising method of treatment is through medical and mental health professionals, as eating disorders are often linked to other mental health disorders.
The comorbidity connection
Comorbidity is two or more illnesses or disorders arising in an individual either at the same time or one after another and where the presence of one disorder/illness is likely to worsen the other. “There is a significant co-occurrence of eating disorders, particularly binge eating disorder, in individuals with higher BMI.” Additionally, those who struggle with obesity may also struggle with anorexia as a method of controlling one’s food intake in the hopes of weight loss.
So, while obesity in and of itself is not an eating disorder as listed by the DSM-5, it frequently occurs in connection with another eating disorder.
Eating disorder versus obesity treatment
Both obesity and eating disorders require medical intervention. Obesity is not just about the amount of food consumed, rather it might be the result of significant health or genetic difficulty which only a medical professional is equipped to handle safely and effectively. Additionally, eating disorders require both mental and physical treatment and are best handled under the careful supervisor of medical doctors and mental health specialists.
If you are concerned about obesity becoming an eating disorder or vice versa, contact the staff at Seeds of Hope today at 610-644-6464 to begin your journey towards wellness.