>U Mom Knows Best: Why Do Eating Disorders Affect Women More Than Men?

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Why Do Eating Disorders Affect Women More Than Men?

 There are numerous myths and misunderstandings about eating disorders like anorexia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and bulimia nervosa.  As an example, some people feel these disorders aren't too serious and are just phases that come and go.  Even more prevalent is the most common myth that only adolescent girls develop these disorders.  The truth is, eating disorders affect people of all ages and genders.   However, even the most dangerous misunderstandings can have a kernel of truth – while eating disorders don't only affect teenage girls, they do appear much more frequently in women (both cisgender and trans) than in men.

 Research shows that one of the biggest reasons why eating disorders in women are so common is that a combination of societal pressures about weight and beauty can change brain activity to the point of developing disordered thoughts and behaviors.  Brain patterns are formulated during childhood and adolescence.  During this time, a person’s self-esteem and development of self-worth are malleable and subject to influence from peers, family, and even the media.

 For families interested in outpatient eating disorder treatment, understanding the factors which cause women to develop these types of mental health conditions is the first step to treating them successfully.

Why Are Women More Vulnerable to Eating Disorders?
 According to the National Eating Disorders Association or NEDA, about two-thirds of the 30 million people who have some form of an eating disorder are female.  In particular, the well-known disorders anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are much more likely to develop in women than men, although the occurrence of binge eating disorder is more evenly split between men and women.

 One key factor in many eating disorders is body dissatisfaction, which, in extreme forms, can lead people to feel overweight or otherwise “flawed,” despite evidence to the contrary.  Body dissatisfaction is quite common in women of all ages.

 These studies show that with anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders, individuals tend to overestimate their body size, perceiving themselves as being larger or heavier than they are. While it’s tempting to try to identify a single contributing factor as the culprit behind eating disorders, most experts believe that women are more vulnerable body dysmorphia (skewed self-image) due to a combination of biological, genetic and cultural factors.

 Beginning at puberty, females begin to develop unique biological factors. When female biological changes are combined with common cultural factors like premature sexualization and the presentation of a certain body type as a beauty and sexual ideal, many young women become more at risk for developing an eating disorder.

How Brain Activity Influences Eating Disorders in Women
 While it's true that both men and women are at risk for developing an eating disorder, research continues to show that women are much more likely to deal with feelings surrounding body dissatisfaction.  An interesting exploration of this phenomenon in a recent research project examined the brains of 32 people, 16 each male and female, who had no earlier history of an eating disorder.  Each person was monitored for brain activity with an MRI while being shown virtual reality images of their bodies as both obese and very thin.

 During these MRI scans, researchers found that perception of one’s body has a direct effect on the brain’s activity, especially in the emotional centers which center around self-esteem.  This area of the brain, the parietal lobe, is also associated with subjective emotions like fear and anger.  The female study subjects showed a higher chance of “owning” or identifying with the obese body type than the male participants. This helped researchers conclude that one of the biggest contributing factors to the development of eating disorders in women, body dissatisfaction, is more common in women than men.

 Of course, not everyone who has body dissatisfaction or dysmorphia will develop an eating disorder - but understanding this connection can point eating disorder treatment facilities and other experts towards effective strategies for recovery. With a solid base of understanding of why women are more prone to developing an eating disorder, specialized recovery plans can be designed – and that’s a great sign of hope.

1 comment:

Nyxie said...

Great post. I personally think that women are more vulnerable to eating disorders due to the pressures put on us by both society and other women. Even the pressure we put on ourselves is too much!

I also think it's a lot to do with brain chemistry and hormones. We're more likely to feel negative about our bodies and ourselves due to several imbalanced hormones, brain chemistry etc.

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