70 million people worldwide struggle with an eating disorder. Psychiatrists and researchers frequently say that eating disorders – whether anorexia or obesity – are often expression of – and a means of coping with – deeper problems. Understanding, and treating, those deeper problems are crucial to addressing the impact these health issues have on individuals and public health systems.
Canadian waistlines are expanding. A quarter of our population weighs in as not just overweight, but as obese. Last month the American Medical Association deemed obesity a disease. The Canadian Medical Association says while it doesn’t officially label obesity a disease, it is recognized in the medical community as such.
Obesity is associated with a variety of diseases, including Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers. The effects of obesity cost the Canadian economy a staggering $4.6 billion annually.
It’s not like we aren’t trying to lose the weight. Decima Research shows forty-two percent of adults polled spend more than $500 annually on their weight-loss efforts – things like gym fees and diet supplements.
A survey by the Heart and Stroke Foundation shows that two-thirds of Canadians have tried losing weight in the past five years, but the vast majority has failed to keep it off. Dr. Marci di Buono, director of research at the Foundation, says that obesity remains one of the leading public-health concerns.
If obesity is soon to be considered a disease, does this mean people no longer need to take personal responsibility for their weight? “I suffer from a disease, ergo I am obese and somebody else – like my doctor or a drug – has to change that?” How will that impact the increase or decrease of obesity and their impact on the public health costs?
Mayor Michael Bloomberg (of New York City), long a supporter of healthy living, encourages New Yorkers to bike to work and to take the stairs. He has even tried to outlaw large-size sugary drinks – but failed, as his legislature, for one thing, didn’t like the idea of removing people’s responsibility for their choices.
Is anorexia nervosa the evil twin of obesity? If obesity is being grossly overweight, anorexia is thinking you are fat or a fear of becoming obese. Anorexia and bulimia nervosa are the most common eating disorders in North America. They are considered a consequence of society’s emphasis and preoccupation with thinness. Severe anorexia leads to chronic malnutrition, which has damaging effects on the body – it can be fatal.
Facing the Fear
Dr. Carolyn Ross is a physician who has pioneered an integrative approach to healing food and body image issues, and addictions. She is also an author and public speaker about the powerful role that a mind/body/spirit approach plays in healing, particularly in this area of her expertise – eating disorders. She recognizes that the whole person needs to be taken into account and that the body, mind and spirit have the ability to work together to heal.
“We try to shift the patient’s relationship with food from one of fear and control to one that is positive and life-affirming,” says Dr. Ross. “Cultivating mindfulness in every area, especially regarding food, helps patients discover that food is a restorative element. Food nourishes us so that we can go nourish others.”
If the relationship with food is rooted in fear – fear of not having enough – thus overeating or the fear of too much – thus under eating – then facing the fear may be the first step to change and freedom.
One ageless source for healthy thinking, the Bible, encourages us to shift our view away from fear, and to find a sense of trust in the divine that supports our efforts to make all kinds of healthy changes in our lifestyle. One passage says: Don’t be afraid, because I am with you. Don’t be intimidated; I am your God. I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will support you with my victorious right hand.– Isaiah 41:10.
Many programs that treat addictions, such as obesity, bulimia and anorexia, have found that when patients tap into – and relinquish the problem to – a divine power, results are quicker and more lasting.