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Body Image and Eating Disorders

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"Mirror, Mirror on the wall ... who's the thinnest one of all?" According to the National Eating Disorders Association, the average American woman is 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighs 140 pounds. The average American model is 5 feet 11 inches tall and weighs 117 pounds.

All too often, society associates being "thin", with "hard-working, beautiful, strong and self-disciplined." On the other hand, being "fat" is associated with being "lazy, ugly, weak and lacking will-power."

Because of these harsh critiques, rarely are women completely satisfied with their image. As a result, they often feel great anxiety and pressure to achieve and/or maintain an imaginary appearance.

Eating disorders are serious medical problems. Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder are all types of eating disorders. Eating disorders frequently develop during adolescence or early adulthood, but can occur during childhood or later in adulthood. Females are more likely than males to develop an eating disorder.

Eating disorders are more than just a problem with food. Food is used to feel in control of other feelings that may seem overwhelming.

For example, starving is a way for people with anorexia to feel more in control of their lives and to ease tension, anger, and anxiety. Purging and other behaviors to prevent weight gain are ways for people with bulimia to feel more in control of their lives and to ease stress and anxiety.

Although there is no single known cause of eating disorders, several things may contribute to the development of these disorders:

Culture. In the United States extreme thinness is a social and cultural ideal, and women partially define themselves by how physically attractive they are.

Personal characteristics. Feelings of helplessness, worthlessness, and poor self-image often accompany eating disorders.

Other emotional disorders. Other mental health problems, like depression or anxiety, occur along with eating disorders.

Stressful events or life changes. Things like starting a new school or job or being teased and traumatic events like rape can lead to the onset of eating disorders.


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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.