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sexta-feira, fevereiro 09, 2007

National Eating Disorders Week

The Ecologist Blog
Pat Thomas on 08/02/2007

The key message for National Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2007 – “Be comfortable in your genes. Wear jeans that fit the REAL you.”

NEDAW, in its 20th year, is gung-ho in its mission to convince the world that eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia are “serious illnesses, not choices” and that “while environmental factors may pull the trigger, genetics loads the gun.”

In a word, bollocks.

According to research last year in the Archives of General Psychiatry, genetic factors account for around half of the risk of developing anorexia nervosa. Even accepting that this is true (and I’m not sure I DO) what about the other half?

Am I alone in feeling completely frustrated and fed up with groups who grasp at the genetic explanation for every human ill? Is it not ridiculous for instance to assume that the compulsion to kill yourself through starvation and compulsive vomiting is genetic. If so how would the human race survive?

While genetics is the whizzy new science in town, one that makes us believe we are close to unlocking the key to the human condition, evidence for the strength of the influence of genes on any number of diseases, including cancer, is very thin. No one can predict with any certainty how far a person’s genetics will truly influence their health. Humans and the world they inhabit are far too complex to be reduced to that kind of equation.

Eating disorders are part and parcel of a toxic society - one that encourages addiction and neurosis and then flails around for easy answers for all life’s ills.

Follow the epidemiological evidence and you will know this is true. A decade ago anorexia nervosa was rare outside the developed West. These days it is becoming a common clinical problem among young women in Hong Kong and other high income Asian societies, such as Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, and the Republic of Korea. As the economic liberation and liberalization of these societies has come into full swing, media advertising (the source of so much of our personal discontent) has been deregulated and eating disorders have also appeared in major cities in traditionally low income Asian countries, such as China, India, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Indonesia. Community studies in Hong Kong in 2000 found, for instance, that 3-10% of young women were exhibiting patterns of disordered eating of a magnitude that warranted concern.

Are we to assume that in the 1990s these women’s genes were normal and in the space of a decade they have mutated into something altogether more dangerous and anti-life?

Likewise for years eating disorders overwhelmingly have been the preserve of women, believed to be more vulnerable sex when it comes to media images of stick-thin models and cruel comparisons with friends. But last year UK research published in the British Journal of Health Psychology found that perceived pressure from parents, siblings, friends and the media meant that boys were becoming affected too. Have boys suddenly undergone some rapid genetic morph that makes them more vulnerable to eating disorders?

It is ironic that groups like NEDAW insist on pursuing one-size-fits-all explanations. A more sensible view might be to insist we pay serious attention to the bigger picture.

Let’s be aware of disorders such as muscle dysmorphic disorder (MDD) a, or ‘bigarexia’, as it has been termed - a disorder affecting mostly men who feel they are too puny and who, compulsively and to the detriment of their health, do everything they can to bulk up.

Let’s be aware of the way that mercury poisoning can mimic symptoms of anorexia and start checking sufferers environments (and their mouths) for this ubiquitous environmental poison.

Let’s be aware of the link between mineral deficiencies (particularly with regard to zinc) and how they can worsen the symptoms of both anorexia and bulimia. And then let’s start to ask hard questions about the kind of food we eat and the severely mineral-depleted soil we grow it in.

Let’s be aware of the often toxic familial environment that children with eating disorders grow up in – environments where the external is valued over the internal and where losing weight is, amongst other things, the source of a much needed sense of achievement, and where it can be used to avoid sexual maturity and deny the reality of sexual abuse.

Being aware of these things makes us feel bad (unlike the genetic explanation which makes us feel good in an ‘it’s out of my hands’ sort of way). Yet if we are ever to tackle to increasing problem of body image and disordered eating (of all types, including over-eating) we have got to stop force-feeding ourselves feel good answers.