Interdependence Between Of Disordered Education And Disordered Eating

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As human beings, we need food to survive, however we live in a society where many individuals are at war with food and their relationship with their bodies. According to The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, “over 30 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder in the U.S.” That being said, there are many factors that relate to the impact that food has on an individual’s perspective of themselves, some of those being advertisements, social media, and family pressures. These are all factors that are relatively well-known and acknowledged; however, there are many elements of someone’s upbringing and schooling that can contribute largely to the onset of disordered eating habits, which raises the question, What more should schools be doing to help this epidemic? Despite the efforts made by intervention and recovery programs, when one considers the popularity of pro-eating disorder social media pages, the obsession with body image from a young age, and the frequency of eating disorders within “higher risk” communities, it is evident that schools need to do more to prevent eating disorders among their students.

As social media presence is so important to young people, the popularity of “Pro-Eating Disorder” websites and social media pages can be detrimental to the self perception of individuals and their body image concerns, increasing the risk of developing disordered eating. People strive to have the “perfect” body and reputation on social media, paving the way to unhealthy habits relating to social media and ways in which one can achieve this ideal perception. Social media is a relatively new concept in the grand scheme of things, meaning the ways which people interact with these platforms is also new and ever changing. The internet presents an opportunity for people to communicate and relate to others who they previously would not have been able to empathize with or reach. While this can be a positive thing in many cases, it can also become extremely harmful to individuals who may need professional advisement or help. A great example of the negative effects of this is the presence of many social media pages and internet resources have been made that can be categorized by the promotion of habits associated with the early symptoms and onset of eating disorders. These websites can be recognized as they share common traits, some being the posting of “calorie tables, body mass index (BMI) calculators, pictures of starved or extremely thin people, for example, celebrities, advice for weight loss and weight control, as well as tips and tricks sections, and instructions how to disguise disordered eating behaviors from friends and family,”(Wolf). All of these platforms examine and propagate the extremities of the perfect “thin ideal,” many of these tactics and expectations being incredibly damaging to an individual on, “cognitive, affective, social-interpersonal and behavioral levels”(Wolf).

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While there is still a lot of research to be done regarding the correlation between these websites and the effect on readers within these demographics, a study published by Rachel F. Rodgers suggests, “that almost 80% of these websites are interactive,” meaning that people were going to these sites to post and discuss these habits(Rodgers). In many cases these websites can be viewed or labelled as necessary for help, advice, or recovery, when they are doing precisely the opposite. Many studies have been conducted on the language used in these “Pro-ED” sites, proving that they are often written with a very closed minded and limited point of view, as Markus Wolf depicts in the analysis of pro-eating disorder blogs, compared with recovery blogs, “Pro–eating disorder blogs contained fewer negative emotion words, specifically fewer words related to sadness and anxiety, and displayed fewer social and communication words,” promoting eating pathology(any symptom of an eating disorder) as a positive and effective solution to body image concerns. “With the increase of social networking sites[…]Most parents, educators, and health professionals are unaware of the sheer scope and nature of such pro-anorexia messages in these new contexts,” making their impact on younger individuals go almost undetected(Custers). When one analyzes the accessibility to these sites for children, who may not yet know how to process their own concerns and right from wrong, the impact of this type of language can prove to be destructive to an individual’s health at a very young age, promoting the onset of eating disorders such as Anorexia or Bulimia Nervosa as they grow older.

With the increase of accessibility to “negative” sites, schools have already begun to implement the education of internet safety, but education regarding social media and internet pages that promote unhealthy habits and content which can be ruinous to be body image should be abundant within this material. The accessibility of these pro-eating disorder sites can be extremely dangerous as they can be available to anyone 24/7. With the ability to stumble upon these sites with ease, it can be destructive to the self perception of someone who may not be at a higher cognitive level, such as a child who may only be starting to process the presence of their own body image concerns. Many schools teach the importance of protecting your information on the internet, avoid content containing alcohol and drugs, but with social media being so present in our society it is imperative that children are given the knowledge and resources needed to protect their mental health as well. It is crucial that schools implement restrictions on sites that include keywords relating to pro-eating disorders on school wifi and resources. Awareness through health classes or through technology education how to safely navigate the internet and interact with social media pages could help to prevent the onset of these destructive eating habits later in life.

With an obsession with body image in America, it is evident that intervention for early eating disorder symptoms needs to be implemented to prevent eating disorders later in life. As the access to social media and technology is available to younger children in our society, body image concerns, and consequential eating habits become present at a very young age, which then follows an individual through teenage years, early adulthood, and for some, a lifetime. There are an abundance of factors that correlate with how one sees their body; however, when “Modernized societies prefer thinness and socially discriminate against obese individuals,” it is no suprise that people feel a pressure to fit within a certain image of “acceptable”(Mukhopadhyay).

A study published by Kimberly Adams studying the body image concerns and weight control practices of 4th and 7th grade students presents that, “rates of childhood and adolescent obesity are rising at alarming rates in the United States,” correlating with the concern regarding, “the rising rates of eating disorders, especially among adolescents”(Adams). This study inherently examines how one’s concerns increase as their body changes, the results show that, “when asked to describe what they thought of their own weight, more 7th grade students described themselves as being overweight Compared to 4th graders. Females described themselves as being more overweight than males”(Adams). Through the results of this study it is clear that there is an increase of body image concern and self conscious tendencies by the time someone becomes a young teen. This suggests that in some part of our childhood or education, we are surrounded by the pressure to look a certain way, so much so that individuals start to inherit this over-awareness at a young age.

One largely popular source that can impact someone’s self perception is the comparison to models, advertisements, and movie/tv stars. People look up to those who are popular in the media, and strive for the same fame. When one considers the exposure someone has to media as they switch from cartoons to reality tv, the types of characters or personalities that are seen are dramatically different. Those who are models or popular are inherently pretty and thin, while the plus-sized best friend is likely presented as the “comedic relief” or “underdog.” This puts the idea in individual’s heads that in order to be popular or have a good perception from others, you have to fit into an ideal body type, which encourages unhealthy relationship to one’s appearance. This concept of how society perceives the look of models is depicted in a study conducted by Silvia Moreno-Domínguez, where results prove that, “exposure to thin models deteriorated body image while increasing body dissatisfaction and anxiety[…]conversely, exposure to overweight models improved body image and decreased body dissatisfaction” (Moreno-Domínguez).

An increase to exposure to the media can correlate and effect the presence of body concern obsession at an early age. However, trends tend to prove that the onset of body image concerns exponentially increases during puberty, as many begin to compare themselves to others. This comparison between adolescents can be detrimental to someone’s mental health and relationship to their body, meaning this is the most crucial time for eating disorder intervention within schools. It is imperative that healthy eating habits be taught while bodies and emotions are changing at a rapid rate. The obsession over body image is extremely prevalent in our society, and with increasing concerns in youth, schools must be do more during developmental stages of a person’s education. It is imperative that through education revolving puberty, transition, or coping mechanisms, students are taught how to positively react to their changing bodies. For example, rather than the vague food pyramid lessons, a thorough unit on the effects of media, the different structures of bodies, and healthy ways to exercise or diet as an individual, can more effectively relate to healthy eating habits.

While there are many psychological and societal impacts that relate to the onset of disordered eating habits within young populations, many people argue that schools have already implemented intervention/prevention and recovery programs for those students who may display the presence of eating disorders. School and organizations that work with adolescents have implemented programs which, “[utilize] a voluntary, self-selection model that is sustainable in a high school setting, and [focus] on empowerment and effective cognitive dissonance based prevention activities”(Breithaupt). Programs similar to this show results of improvement in body positivity and progress in the eating disorder recovery journey. Some participants even recall this experience as a fun environment, where they met people they could trust and rely on, as they were all going through similar struggles. While programs like this and other school counseling and detection methods can show improvement and results amongst individuals, the fault in these programs is the recognition that many people suffering from an eating disorder are not going to self-volunteer themselves, or admit their unhealthy habits. Despite the success of many school programs, they fall short in the detection of those students who do not present their habits as obviously, or may be considered “higher risk” because of a myriad of predispositions.

Eating disorders are often not in plain sight; alternatively, groups who may be suffering from other unrelated psychological or traumatic factors are often considered high risk for disordered eating development, thus proving that further research and support to these groups is crucial in the fight to prevent the onset of eating disorders in early childhood education. While many people may know signs or symptoms that may be associated with disordered eating, the research and knowledge of what types of people may be at higher risk is crucial in order to support different groups of people. For example, individuals who have experienced early life trauma may be at a higher risk of developing an eating disorder in later in their life. While there is a long list of psychological factors that lead to the onset of eating disorders, it has been proven that, “adult obesity can be a delayed consequence of certain severe psychological traumas experienced during childhood,” often associated with Binge Eating Disorder(Quilliot).

It is commonly believed that the onset of eating pathology in any capacity, in many cases, is a product of an individuals’ need to control something. In a study conducted by Didier Quilliot regarding the relationship between early childhood trauma and adult obesity/eating disorders, “Emotional neglect was the most frequent event experienced,” within a group of participants, showing that whilst the effects on eating habits may not have been present throughout childhood, but rather, the psychological effect of the trauma and lack of control, led to the later onset of Binge Eating Disorder(Quilliot). The support to individuals who may be going through trauma is imperative, as the resources given are limited to help them out of their situation, and often neglects the effects it may have in other areas of their life later on. This being said, the awareness surrounding groups that may be considered at higher risk for the onset of eating disorders within early childhood education is essential in the effort to prevent disordered eating habits within schools.

Eating disorders are extremely prevalent in today’s society, and with the knowledge of the symptoms growing, it is imperative that action is taken in order to prevent these habits as soon as they may begin. The psychology behind their existence, as well as the outside factors that impact the way one perceives themselves must be both acknowledged and considered in an effort to prevent eating pathology, and this intervention cannot be avoided until it’s too late. To reduce the number of individuals who grow into disordered eating habits, it is pivotal that schools do more to encourage healthy eating habits starting at a young age. The popularity of pro-eating disorder social media pages, the obsession with body image from a young age, and the frequency of eating disorders within “higher risk” communities are all factors that schools can work to combat before habits have grown too familiar, and it is crucial that schools implement the knowledge and change necessary to prevent the development of eating disorders amongst young adults.

Works Cited

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  2. Breithaupt, Lauren, et al. “REbeL Peer Education: A Model of a Voluntary, after-School Program for Eating Disorder Prevention.” Eating Behaviors, vol. 32, Jan. 2019, pp. 111–116. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1016/j.eatbeh.2016.10.010.
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