By On June 10th, 2014

No, There Isn’t Just One Thing Causing Eating Disorders

It is common to look for the societal or cultural factors which contribute to eating disorders, but doing so often misses one of the most crucial matters at the heart of the issue. While it can feel productive to scrutinize media and other potentially triggering and influential sources which may facilitate the increase in individuals being identified with eating disorders, criticizing those sources without acknowledging that eating disorders are mental illnesses is problematic.

This is not to say that we should stop being critical of how media and advertising presents the supposed “ideal” human figures, but those who struggle with eating disorders deserve more than indirect attention.

Susanne Carlson is the survivor of a 10 year long battle with an eating disorder, and during her struggle she saw individuals categorized with a seemingly endless list of subtypes of eating disorders. She also went through many treatment processes which approach individuals with eating disorders as a cohesive monolith driven by consistent issues.

The idea that there is one or even a small list of factors creating eating disorders is the largest failure in the rehabilitation of individuals with eating disorders.

As Carlson says in a blog post for The Province:

“Every person has their own story and that story does not fit within the boxes of diagnosis. Each story needs to be heard and worked through. Each person needs to feel acknowledged, believed, and validated that their experience means something – that they aren’t inherently mentally unstable or a lost cause.”

The suggestion that many eating disorder patients feel like a lost cause is perhaps the most worrying part of that short except, as one of the most common motivations for eating disorders is the belief that the individual is “just not enough,” as Carlson puts it. By failing to validate their own feelings and experience, it is likely those feelings are actually further reinforced instead of worked through and reconciled.

Carlson’s entire opinion piece gives a unique and enlightening insight into the perspective of just one individual who has struggled with eating disorders, but it also highlights several ways the overall treatment of eating disorders can be improved. It can be tempting to treat patients as the monolithic representation of their disorder because it is a less complex approach, but every patient is a complex and fully realized person and deserves treatment that takes this into account.

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