Eating disorders are serious psychological illnesses. They are not a fad, they are not a diet, and they are absolutely not as a result of vanity or as Joan Bakewell stated, narcissism.
Anorexia Nervosa is a chronic and potentially fatal illness. It is an illness that causes pervasive pain and distress to not only the individual, but also to their family, their friends and their loved ones. Despite a large amount of research into Anorexia, the fact remains that it is still recorded as having the highest mortality rate amongst mental health disorders as well as having a high relapse rate. It is clear therefore, that despite huge advances in the field of research and treatment of Anorexia, mortality and relapse have still very much a central place in its presentation. The outcome of relapse is more pervasive than an outcome of recovery from the illness. Subsequently, a significant amount of people continue to live with the highly distressing illness of Anorexia.
Eating disorders, while they may appear to be about food, weight and shape, may actually be understood in terms of a coping mechanism in response to some type of emotional distress. Those struggling with an eating disorder commonly talk about a sense of control when talking about their experiences. When their lives and their minds are feeling so much out of control, a sense of control and focus can be gained through controlling and monitoring their food intake. This focus acts as a distraction from the underlying emotional distress.
Many factors may contribute to the development of an eating disorder, there is no simple answer. Eating disorders manifest as a result of a complex interaction between psychological, biological and social factors. Factors such as low self-esteem, low confidence, a negative sense of self as well as specific personality traits such as perfectionism and obsessional traits are all risk factors. In addition, social factors such as adverse life experiences such as, stress, trauma, bullying as well as media and societal factors are also risk factors. These are not prescriptions. Someone who experiences bullying for example may develop an eating disorder, however, another person who experiences bullying may not. The causes of an eating disorder are not straightforward and simplistic affairs. Eating disorders arise as result of a complex interaction between many factors.