“The media evoke a sense of a gap between one’s own and the ideal body, which causes constant anxiety about its appearance and weight”  – Professor Melosik, Polish sociologist of education and pedagogue
The words of Professor Melosik describe one of the biggest problems currently faced by young people at the age of puberty. It is estimated that among young people under the age of 18 in Poland, anorexia affects up to 2% of girls, while the problem of bulimia affects 2% of all minors.  Eating disorders are characteristics mainly of Western culture, which is related to social pressure that forces young people to maintain a certain figure while having a large availability of many types of food products. The cult of the body promoted in the media leads to changes in self-perception and in the way of life of young people. However, this is often a road leading to nowhere, because in many cases it results in the appearance of eating disorders, which – when fully developed – are very difficult to cure completely.
The explanation of this problem was undertaken by researchers from the Wrocław University of Environmental and Life Sciences: Ewa Jabłońska MSc Eng., Karina Błędkowska MSc and prof. dr hab. Monika Bronkowska in their article “Eating disorders as a health and psychosocial problem” explain what the ED (eating disorders) are and how they relate to the “ideal body cult” promoted in the media.
Who is affected in eating disorders?
Today’s world promotes the image of a slim body, normalizes the ever-increasing pace of life and imposes ever greater demands. Some people, particularly women in their teenage years, are more sensitive to these challenges, which can result in them developing an eating disorder. Ewa Jabłońska MSc Eng., Karina Błędkowska MSc and prof. dr hab. Monika Bronkowska described common features found in people with ED and factors that increase susceptibility to these diseases. People suffering from ED have similar personality traits, such as perfectionism, a tendency to compete or low self-esteem, which make it difficult for them to cope with peer pressure. Eating disorders also often coexist with personality disorders, mainly anxiety or emotional disorders. It also turns out that irregularities in family relationships have a huge impact on the development of ED: overprotective parents, too high expectations towards the child, involving him in conflicts between parents or, on the contrary – complete avoidance of conflicts and difficult situations in the family, which may result in the children’s adoption passive attitude and make it difficult for them to solve their own problems.
Biological factors are also important. People with ED have reduced activity of dopamine, serotonin and noradrenaline, which regulate, among others, the processes of appetite and food intake. The functioning of the reward system also changes. For example, when – as healthy people – we feel hunger and a moment later we eat tasty food, our reward system will be stimulated and we will feel pleasure as a result of the release of dopamine. In people with anorexia, such a situation will cause anxiety.
Understanding eating disorders
A person suffering from anorexia  usually does not notice the symptoms of the disease and ignores any physical ailments. A similar approach of the patient is observed in the case of people suffering from bulimia . People affected by eating disorders often face social exclusion or ostracism. However, support is essential during the recovery period. This is why it is so important to raise public awareness of eating disorders. The dissemination of knowledge by competent people enables the increase of interest in this topic also in scientific circles and the potential development of the medical market in Poland. By emphasizing the importance of this problem, we create a social dialogue on innovative methods of diagnosis and treatment. Potentially, this may result in the introduction of agents more targeted to the specific cause of eating disorders on the domestic pharmaceutical market, which may allow the expected results to appear in a much shorter time.
However, there are factors that cannot be combated by administering drugs. The phenomena of “thinspiration”, “pro-ana” or “pro-mia” appearing on social networks and websites are still a big problem. Let’s imagine that it is difficult for us to accept the appearance of our body. On the Internet, we see a lot of photos of excessively thin figures and we have the opportunity to join the community of people who will support us in losing our weight in all possible ways. Such places in the digital world have already been created, because “thinspiration” is nothing more than promoting achieving too low body weight by sharing photos or videos, while “pro-ana” (from pro-anorexia) and “pro-mia” (from pro-bulimia) are communities associating people striving for excessive weight loss in ways characteristic of bulimics and anorexics and exchanging their experiences. Content about how to hide the disease from family and doctor or normalizing ED is still not stigmatized enough and is a serious problem for people struggling with the first symptoms of eating disorders.
The limits of a healthy lifestyle
The trend of “being fit” currently observed in Poland, promoting a healthy lifestyle, practicing sports and following the principles of healthy eating, for some becomes the basis of life, leading to a lack of interest in other areas of life. These types of disorders include orthorexia, which consists in obsessively planning meals only from organic, healthy products without pollutants and food additives, as well as bigorexia, which is characterized by excessive focus on building muscle mass and neglecting social life in order to strictly comply with imposed physical exercises and food restrictions.
As emphasized by Ewa Jabłońska MSc Eng., Karina Błędkowska MSc and Monika Bronkowska, one of the main causes of all these disorders is social pressure and throwing young people with images of the “perfect figure”. For this reason, it is extremely important today to realize that the perfect body does not exist, and everything we do – also for our own health – must have its limits.
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