Food, Nutrition and Your Health: Psychological Factors – Open2Study

Although there are some genetic
and biological factors associated with the causation of
eating disorders, these are relatively minor, and still
not understood very well. What we do know for certain is
that psychological factors are much more important. And also, there are many social
and cultural factors. So if we look at the causation
of all of these eating disorders, it’s usually a
multi-factorial causation. And we’re looking at such things
as cultural and social factors, including things like
environment and peer pressure, and so on and so forth. We’re looking at personality
of the individual affected. And this may be very,
very complex. We may have people with distinct
personality traits presenting with eating
disorders– for example, people who are
perfectionists or who are obsessive compulsive. There may be degrees of
neuroticism there. There may be degrees of
attention-seeking, and so on and so forth. We may be looking at
family influences. And this can be quite important,
what environment that individual is growing in,
and whether there’s a family history of problems with
food and body image. We’re looking at drug
and alcohol use, and abuse, I must say. So these people have problems
with drug and alcohol use are also more likely to turn up with
these eating disorders. There may be varying degrees
of each one of those in any individual. Cultural and peer pressures are
a very strong factor in influencing eating disorders and
the development of ideas regarding body image. Western society’s ideas about
female beauty have undergone cyclical changes through
the centuries. So what is considered beautiful
changes quite a great deal. In countries like Australia,
and other countries in the First World, we find that media
attention to female beauty can be a very powerful
mechanism, which drives what women perceive of themselves,
and how they feel about their body image. A 2008 study reported that 74%
of adult women, and about 70% of adolescent girls, were
dissatisfied with their body image, or desired
to lose weight. That’s quite different to the
Rubenesque female that we see there in the 17th century, to
the female ideal of beauty in the late 20th century, which
was more of a waif look In 2010 in Australia, NADC
reported that adolescent females who diet at a severe
level have a 20% chance of developing an eating
disorder after 12 months of extreme dieting. Now, that’s quite significant
when you think that one in five of these predominantly
women, and young women at that, develop a serious eating
disorder after going through cycles of dieting, especially if
it’s a protracted period of time, like 12 months. All of this media attention
regarding super-thin models, for example, has generated
another response in which women are taking an active role
in counteracting this culture of thin. And there is now quite a
considerable movement in the fat pride type of thinking. Women who are overweight or even
obese are taking a proud attitude to their weight. So my weight, my obesity,
is my beauty. As far as males are concerned,
quite a lot of studies have shown that most males prefer
a Rubenesque female– that is, a woman with quite
pronounced curves, which many women think is overweight. This has quite an interesting
physiological, biological underpinning– the psychological. And this is because women who
are rounded, that do have the curves and quite a lot of fat
in their body, are actually quite fertile. So a male would prefer
a fertile partner, biologically speaking. So males find the rounded
Rubenesque women more attractive because they’re
more fertile. This is something that was very
well-known in history and palaeolithic times. For example, 24,000, 25,000
years ago, we have little figurines that were thought
to be fertility figurines. And these were votive symbols. And they actually are
of overweight or even obese women. That connection between body fat
and fertility makes sense biologically. On the other hand, very
lean women with very little body fat– for example, athletes, if they
are extremely lean and well-trained, they often
will stop menstruating. So they’re not fertile. And there is that connection,
again, between biological factors relating to fertility
and body fat, and how attractive a woman is to a
biological mate who desires that fertility. The other thing to keep in mind
about body fat and women is that estrogens are the
female sex hormones. And they’re based on cholesterol
and fats. And if you have adequate body
fat, then you’re making adequate hormones, which are
very important in the menstrual cycle and fertility. In our next topic, we’ll
consider anorexia nervosa in greater detail.

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