People with eating disorders experience psychological issues and are compulsive in their eating habits. These play on each other over time, causing the eating disorder to become more entrenched. Some of the techniques used to try to drop a few pounds may lead to bad eating habits. However, if the concern about weight becomes obsessive, then the problem moves from simple dieting to an eating disorder.
Eating disorders involve the body and the mind. People with eating disorders express psychological problems through their behaviors with food. For example, someone who is struggling with self-esteem may decide that losing some weight would make them feel better and be a more appealing person. This person may try dieting, like many of her friends. But because she starts depending on dieting and weight loss for a sense of self-esteem, she can’t let go of them. They become an obsessive focus, and the problem moves from simple dieting to an eating disorder. Psychological problems that existed before the eating disorder developed get worse, not better, as a result. Eating disorders can’t be separated from the culture in which they arise. In Western society, the overwhelming cultural message is that being thin is best.
As people try to define themselves and what makes them valued members of the culture, the message to get or stay thin affects behavior such as eating, dieting, exercise, even cosmetic surgery. It may also affect self-image. I discuss in this section how these effects can lead to disordered eating habits even for a great many people who don’t have formal eating disorders. For some people who are otherwise vulnerable, the message that thin is best provides the central principle for fixing their lives — and an eating disorder can soon follow. The belief that a solid understanding is necessary in order to arrive at the right kinds of solutions to these unwarranted way of life.