Monday, June 29, 2015

The Dangers of Extreme Dieting and the Importance of Moderation

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By Cassandra Hastie, Harvard University

Photo courtesy of Charlotte Astrid, Copyright 2010. Available at  

“Never go to excess, but let moderation be your guide” - Marcus Tullius Cicero

While not often discussed, eating disorders are serious mental disorders that affect at least 30 million Americans, according to the Eating Disorder Coalition (EDC). To be specific, around 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from an eating disorder, as stated on the National Eating Disorder Association’s website (NEDA). It is important to raise awareness of these eating disorders, because eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness (EDC). The EDC and NEDA are two of the leading organizations providing help and guidance on this health issue.

Due to lack of information and limited awareness, only 1 in 10 people with an eating disorder receive treatment (EDC). Scientists are not fully certain of the exact cause of eating disorders, but they believe a combination of psychological, interpersonal, social, and biological factors contribute to their onset (NEDA). Because it is so difficult to predict the likelihood of an individual developing an eating disorder, it becomes even more important to be aware of restrictive eating and negative self-esteem regarding body image. My aim in this blog is to differentiate between mindful eating and extreme dieting and to describe the three main forms of eating disorders and their consequences.

Mindful eating is an important part of a healthy lifestyle and clear head. Learning to be aware of when you are hungry and when your body needs nutrients is valuable and necessary, just as it is important to know when your body is full and does not need more food. There is quite a distinct difference between being aware of how much you are eating and going on a severely restrictive diet. Although it is not guaranteed that someone who has a restrictive relationship with eating will develop an eating disorder, it is definitely a possibility that this type of relationship could lead to one of the three most prominent eating disorders: Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Binge Eating Disorder.

Anorexia Nervosa is defined by extremely low-calorie intake, weight loss, low self-esteem related to body image, and difficulty of comprehending the danger of the disorder (NEDA). Additionally, there are two types of Anorexia, namely the Restricting Type and the Binge-Eating/Purging Type. An individual suffering from the Restricting Type of Anorexia maintains a low weight by limiting their caloric intake to sometimes just a few hundred calories a day, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD). The Binge-Eating/Purging Type is also characterized by restrictive eating, but additionally involves self-induced vomiting or exercising after the consumption of food (ANAD).

Another prominent eating disorder, Bulimia Nervosa, is characterized by episodes of eating a lot and then participating in activities to prevent weight gain, which include, but are not limited to, self-induced vomiting. Those who suffer from Bulimia often have low self-esteem when it comes to their body image; also, they can feel out of control (NEDA).

A Binge Eating Disorder is similar to Bulimia Nervosa in the sense that those suffering tend to consume large amounts of food. The difference between the two disorders is that binge eating is not associated with behaviors to prevent weight gain. Binge Eating frequently involves feelings of being out of control, strong shame, and guilt (NEDA).

It is incredibly important to be aware of the symptoms and early signs of an eating disorder. If you feel like you may be affected by any symptoms related to an eating disorder, there are many free resources at your disposal. Two of these resources include the National Eating Disorder Association Hotline ((800) 931-2237) and the NEDA Click-to-Chat resource. Both of these systems of support can be found at the following website:

Everyone who feels like he or she may be struggling with any body image or eating concerns deserves support. No concern is too small. Living a healthy life and maintaining a healthy diet are immensely important, but mental health is equally as essential. I hope that this blog has helped to shed some light on the dangers of extreme dieting and the importance of achieving moderation.

1 comment:

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