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Don't Be Talked Into An Eating Disorder If You Can Talk Yourself Out of Dieting

A leading weight-control research charity fears that exaggerated claims about the extent of eating disorders are contributing to the general obesity and weight issues crisis.

The Weight Foundation says that whilst major eating disorders remain dangerous and distressing, over-zealous diagnoses are fanning the flames of food distress.

Problem eaters and dieters are too readily being pushed into medical categories, limiting abilities to self-help and recover.

And the campaigning and support body argues that much more research emphasis needs to be placed on understanding dieting itself, which, along with a growing number of experts, it contends is a major contributor to the widespread weight and nutrition panic.

Typical predictions now commonly being made are that up to 30% of all women will experience an eating disorder some time within their lifetime, or that persistent dieting and frustrating obesity are effectively eating disorders in their own right.

This is what is called 'pathologizing' - the defining of problems or conditions into disease. Once issues become set in stone like this, the focus of remedy changes. It goes from being voluntary habit change to demanding treatment by third parties.

Some expert commentators not for one minute believe that up to a third of women will suffer an eating disorder. However what a small number of skeptical observers believe matters not at all - if people are generally led to expect themselves to be at risk, then risk automatically increases.

There is a mix of processes and pressures that are combining to over-expand the territory of eating disorders.

Until recently, definitions of eating disorders have generally comprised Anorexia and Bulimia. The research community is now settling on 'Binge Eating Disorder' to capture the notion of repeated and out of control overeating. BED as a concept is ring-fenced with a considerable array of necessary anxieties and obsessions to differentiate it from lesser overeating.

Despite the cautious progress of researchers in testing the boundaries of eating disorders, a less-sophisticated eating disorders bandwagon is creating a disruptive and destructive momentum.

One of the pitfalls of mainstream eating disorder research remains the somewhat catchall term “Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified” (EDNOS), which less careful commentators are misusing as an entry point into the eating disorder spectrum.

Individual issues of self-image anxieties, overeating, continual dieting and obesity concerns are being conflated into broader quasi-medical conditions. Even some of the main advocacy and support groups are being quite loose in their 'entry level' definitions.

This is not to downplay for one minute the dangers and distress caused by full-blown eating disorders, including serious binge eating. However people can exercise a far greater control over what is personal and cultural than they can over what is becoming to be seen as endemic and medical.

Mainstream estimates of in the order of c.1.2 million cases of eating disorders in the UK and c.8 million in the US are suddenly being revised upwards, often drastically, by the media and by the vast number of mainly web-based weight-loss pundits.

A greater level of care needs to be generally exercised between what is capable of being improved by personal lifestyle choices and what needs specialist intervention.

The Weight Foundation is researching the causes and culture of long-term dieting. It believes that dieting, for many people, has become a way of life largely divorced from any useful connection with weight-loss and weight-control. Hardcore dieters need a logical methodology through which to unpack and unpick the emotional, cultural and commercial influences to persistent and futile dieting.

However, the more the eating disorder enthusiasts push too many people down the road of disease labels, the lower the chances for many of establishing a natural and relaxed relationship with food.

About the Author: Malcolm Evans is founder and secretary of The Weight Foundation dieting research charity.

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