Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Eating disorders as mental illnesses

The problem with calling eating disorders mental illnesses, is that it seems to come out of the attitude that dieting is normal. As it is a disordered way of eating itself, it’s predictable that it should provoke disordered eating or eating disorders in the susceptible.

I do not think that eating disorders can properly be understood in terms of mental illnesses as they are. The usual basis for this, their dramatic and powerful hold over the mind and actions, ignores that eating is necessary and has powerful defences built in to protect this from being usurped. One of those is the fact that the appetite and hunger signals can become a lot more powerful than would be encountered normally. We can see the beginnings of this when we miss a meal.

To declare this kind of thing mental illness when it is a consequence of disordered way of eating is unfair on those with eating disorders, it helps to obscure the decisions they need to face, whether pursuing weight loss in the face of the results of it is one.

And it gives the impression that their responses are irrational, when they are entirely in keeping with their survival instincts. How irrational is direct triggering of inbuilt responses. On who's terms and by what measure are they declared so? In order to tell, we have to have a good understanding of normal eating and that has been undermined by the respectability of dieting.

All this favours commercial interests and legitimizes a dubious 'product'. I also don’t like the way it adds to our misunderstandings and ignorance about how eating functions. This follows the trend of pathologising eating in general by expecting it to be ‘genteel’ even when under great duress and direct provocation. Although eating disorders have other triggers, it's possible that they would be reversed by the end of dieting as much as any direct treatment of them for some.

It should be considered how much this means that it is dieting that is closer to a mental illness as it is irrational behaviour in that people believe it works when it doesn’t. The idea that human beings can or should potentially be able to influence or control their weight seems to be to be reasonable one.

The problem is the means and methods used to achieve this are themselves pathological and highly dysfunctional.

This is a clear example of the ends not justify the means.

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