• 17Jan

    Why Do People Become Bulimic? (Part 2)

    Influence of culture on the development of bulimia

    In the part one of this two-blog series, we discussed the influence of genetics, trauma, personality and family on the development of an eating disorder.

    Andrew F. Kazmierski / Shutterstock.com

    Andrew F. Kazmierski / Shutterstock.com

    Culture is another common factor contributing to the development of bulimia and other eating disorders. We are continuously faced with mass media messages of what defines “beautiful.” Our culture has come to define beautiful as skinny. Many people falsely believe the key to happiness is in being thin. A well-known study of the eating and diet habits of people living on the island of Fiji by Dr. Anne Becker and colleagues clearly expresses the role culture and media have on one’s body image.

    Prior to the arrival of television to the island in 1995, Fijians celebrated the “full figure” and there were virtually no cases of eating disorders in the nation. Nearly three years after the introduction of television to the Fijian people, a survey found that 74% of teenage girls felt they were “too big or too fat” and 15% of the girls surveyed said they had vomited to control their weight.  Western images of “beauty” had infiltrated the culture, shifting their perception of what defines beauty.

    Read more about the Fiji study here.

    In addition to television messages, the idea of thin is also all over the Internet, magazines and other mass media. The media glorifies bulimia and anorexia. While culture may have a stronger influence on one individual than another, the influence of culture for many people who suffer from an eating disorder is undeniable.

    Other studies have found that the instances of eating disorders are higher in women who read fashion and beauty magazines. Magazines often portray the “ideal” woman as stick thin. When women (and men) are continuously bombarded with images of what culture has deemed ideal, it may lead to an obsession with body image resulting in bulimia or anorexia nervosa.

    Girls Reading Magazines

    While there are no certain predictors of an eating disorder, culture is one that has been known to play a role in the development of eating disorders.

    Bulimia nervosa is a serious disease, which can cause severe medical complications and cannot be treated by an individual simply modifying his or her behavior. Bulimia has psychological and emotional roots that must be treated as well. It is an illness that often cannot be treated without the help of a professional. If you suspect a loved one is suffering from bulimia, do not ignore the signs. Seek immediate help from a professional.