Sunday, April 27, 2008

65 percent of American women are disordered eaters... really?

When I first heard of this story, I thought it was another story about bulemia, anorexia, or something of the sort.

However, this quote drew me up short:

No, she doesn’t starve herself to an unnatural weight (like anorexics) or throw up daily (like some bulimics), but she doesn’t seem to have a healthy relationship with food or her body, either.

So... "disordered eating"? Wha?

Well, since it's got a scary sounding name, there must be categories right?

The online SELF survey garnered responses from 4,000 women ages 25 to 45 to a detailed questionnaire about their eating habits and found that most disordered eaters fall into one or more of six categories. "Calorie prisoners" are terrified of gaining weight, tend to see food as good or bad and feel extremely guilty if they indulge in something that’s off-limits. Secret eaters binge on junk food at home, in the car — wherever they won’t be found out. Career dieters may not know what to eat without a plan to follow; despite their efforts, they’re more likely than other types to be overweight or obese. Purgers are obsessed with ridding their body of unwanted calories and bloat by using laxatives, diuretics or occasional vomiting. Food addicts eat to soothe stress, deal with anger, even celebrate a happy event; they think about food nearly all the time. Extreme exercisers work out despite illness, injury or exhaustion and solely for weight loss; they are devastated if they miss a session. Like Marsh, who Bulik describes as a calorie prisoner and an exercise addict, many disordered eaters piece together a painful mix of destructive habits. Others may shift between categories over the years, ricocheting from restricting to bingeing to purging, for instance.

Ah. There they are.

Now, does this scary sounding story cover a large group of people? Does this new category indicate previously known eating disorders?

Yes and no, apparently.

Even more frightening, the SELF survey reveals that an additional 10 percent of women suffer from outright eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, meaning that a total of 75 percent of all American women — three out of four — eat, think and behave abnormally around food.

So let me get this straight. 10 percent of women have previously identified eating disorders, but 75 percent of women get whacky about food.

Perhaps it's the cynic in me, but I read that as: "Self help gurus seek to expand the customers for their services by redefining what counts as a disorder".

For instance, without definitions of the terms their list of "disordered behavior" could look like this:

  • Secret Eater: Someone who has a candy bar in their car on the way home from work.

  • Career Dieters: Someone who's trying something other than "eat less and exercise more".

  • Purgers: Someone who eats too much fiber.

  • Food Addicts: Someone who eats comfort food (i.e. something the writers don't approve of).

  • Extreme exercisers: someone who works out regularly

Maybe this is an indication of some deeper problem. However, without a look at the raw data and some definitions of terms this strikes me as nothing more than someone trying to drum up business.

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