Eating disorders are all in the mind.

Feministing had a wonderful piece about men’s body image concerns, particularly about John Prescott, the former deputy PM of Britain speaking out about his stress-induced bulimia. There was also mention of how 10% of eating disorders are suffered by men, aided by wonderful back-patting publications by buff lads like Men’s Health that help spread body dismorphia and turn stress into eating disorders by giving us davidean visions of manly musclitude to live up to/bow down in front of while they exhort us to lose weight. (admittedly, they do this by providing some advice about fitness and health, but they could probably do a lot better than they are)

The real spark here though is that Courtney points out that while eating disorders often involve perceptions of physical inadequacy, or simply insufficient care for oneself, the root cause is psychological, and even attaining a healthy weight doesn’t cure the disorder- hence why eatings disorders turn sinister and drive healthy girls to starve themselves. They’re not just doing it because they believe that thin is sexy- in fact, it can have nothing to do with moving towards a sexier ideal.

As someone who’s dropped into the cycle of skipping meals before, it can simply happen due to contempt for your own appearance, or a simple lack of awareness or concern for your own body and health, and is often deeply interrelated with depression, especially in men. There is no point in focusing on weight for someone with an eating disorder- in fact, it should be completely ignored in favour of building self-esteem and a concern with healthy habits. This sounds relatively easy, but some cases the language we use to describe healthy habits often involves attacking the self-esteem of people with eating disorders, as they’re often in denial about the fact that they are neglecting their own bodies. They simply don’t need to eat that much. They’re already full, they’ll tell themselves. They might begin to believe they really are healthy, or in serious cases that it’s attractive.

I know we don’t always take mental health seriously in New Zealand, but that sort of thing is very hard to unravel, and anyone who’s done it sucessfully deserves some respect for the fact. Big claps on the back to John Prescott for talking to the media about a difficult issue, even if he didn’t do it while in office.

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