Not All Black And White Christmas is a time of joy, but the Christmas of 1988 was one of revelation for me. My best friend of 15 years unveiled her deepest, darkest, most private secret; she was bulimic. I was unfamiliar with the disorder at the time, but when she told me of her 7 year struggle with anorexia and bulimia, I had to know more, to understand the what, why, and how. The first article I found on eating disorders was in a glossy covered periodical, Parents' Magazine. It briefly outlined the mechanics of both eating disorders, and stated that the majority of anorectics and a large percentage of bulimics develop the disorders because of sexual repression in childhood. Dissatisfied with the magazines explanation, I decided to investigate the topic further.
I went to Palmer College of Chiropractic's library hoping to consume as much information as possible to prove Parents' Magazine wrong. I found several medical journals, psychiatric journals, and books on the topic of eating disorders that could affirm my feelings. As I tried to rationalize my friend's behavior, I decided that social acceptability had to have played a large part in her illness. I also took into account that her mother had passed away about 7 years before she broke her news to me, and she had also given up her crown as Miss Iowa, so depression could have been a factor as well. Another aspect of eating disorders that I discovered is a lack of self-esteem, something I never imagined. The first source I found to dispute the sexual repression hypothesis was in Psychology Today.
Dr. Sarah Leibowitz theorized that sexual maturity is a consequence of the disorder, not the raison d'etre. She contends that a lack of self-esteem is a major cause of eating disorders in teenage girls and young women according to the studies she has participated in. Depression and stress also play a major role in the development of eating disorders, not just anorexia and bulimia, but obesity as well. Major life events can be attributed to both depression and stress, leaving the patient feeling lack of control in their life. The anorectic and bulimic turn to starvation and weight loss as a way of taking charge of one aspect of their life.
Studies show that 32% of young women between 16 and 30 years of age who suffer from anorexia or bulimia experienced a severe bout of depression or had a major life crisis just prior to the onset of her eating disorder. Unfortunately, this feeling of control is a false one, since the illness is actually more powerful. The most common aim of the anorectic and bulimic is to achieve social acceptance. Anorectics and bulimics are looking for approval from friends, family, and they use their appearance as a means of that approval. The national chapter of Anorexia and Related Eating Disorders reports that an estimated minimum of 20% of American women between the ages of 16 and 30 can be diagnosed with an eating disorder of one type or another. They believe that this is due to the fact that, in the past 10 years, there has been a steady increase in diet-related articles and advertisements in women's magazines.
Although a small percentage of American men also suffer from eating disorders, articles and advertisements that promote weight control are 10 times more prevalent in publications targeted toward women than in similar ones targeted toward men. The same is true in television and other types of media. Overall, I believe that sexual repression has little, if anything, to do with eating disorders, and have not found any tangible or reputable evidence to dispute this viewpoint. In my vast search for knowledge, I uncovered several facts to collaborate with my dissatisfaction of the explanation that Parents' Magazine had to offer. I discovered that anorexia and bulimia often are the result of severe stress or depression, lack of self- esteem, and, foremost, an need for social acceptance.