Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Dual Rise of Obesity and Anorexia

The rise of the fatties has no single cause. It is a multivariable problem with many different features. What we can all agree on is that people of all types are getting fatter with no end in sight. At the same time as this meteoric rise in obesity rates, Americans also saw a rise in eating disorders of the purge and starvation variety (bulimia and anorexia). These two disorders became cultural phenomena with many think pieces, sob stories and Hollywood attention. Why the rise of both obesity and on the other end of the spectrum, eating disorders?

It is fun to read Harvard's take on this. A government program will get kids moving and not watching images of unattainable beauty! We need to not stigmatize fat people! A good recommendation is trying to push more home cooked meals. This runs into a problem. Americans have the time to cook them now but simply do not want to. The average American watches well over 4 hours of television a day, which is enough time to pack a lunch and cook a dinner if one wanted to. People do not. Americans, especially 21st century comfortable Westerners, take the path of least resistance.

The path of least resistance contributes to America's downfall. Why deal with something when you can take the easy way out? With demoralization of Americans and the rise in deaths of middle aged white Americans in the news, eating oneself into gargantuan clothes is another sign of emptiness. Fill the boredom with eating. Like druggies and alcoholics, these addicts do not stop and the food never ever says no. Obesity is another sign of our decay and decline as no one gives a shit about appearances anymore. This is shameless America.

Grerp ran through the causes for the rise in obesity well, and the media discusses it enough too, but why the rise in anorexia at the same time? Seems no one really knows, and the old correlation of higher socioeconomic status and anorexia/bulimia is not as strong as in days of old if it exists at all. There is something at play though in how it is mainly a white girl problem as even in weeks of searching, the only things I could find about black women and eating disorders were "me, too!" type articles that threw overeating as a disorder in a desperate attempt to say it affects black women at the same rate as whites.

We are not talking about as high of a population as the obese crowd, but what might be coming into play here? First is the idea of sexual marketplace value. Staying thin can keep one's value high. The fear of becoming fat can make one compulsive about maintaining a slender physique. Being thin to increase value can cause some women to become anorexic/bulimic to gain an edge. As American women grew fatter through the years, this made thinness an even greater premium, creating more incentives to be thin. This is in contrast to years past where there were maybe 2% obese and they were shut ins and 1/3 of women were overweight, but a sliver in that might be good overweight if placed well. Women had to compete on many things for mates, not simply "I've got a good body".

In contrast to years past, the sexual marketplace is not as much to find a husband as it is to find sex partners and maintaining curb appeal would force a woman to keep competitive with that fresh crop of 18-21 year olds hitting bars every single year. If you're just looking for a girl for the night, it does not matter what she acts like as long as she is on the "Go Team" and has a nice figure. Facial beauty is just a light switch away after all. We live in the age of the butterface, and this is part of it.

It is not just a sexual marketplace issue but a social class issue. Obesity is more prevalent among the poor. While the surveys are finding that eating disorders are becoming looser in their connection to class, there is still a strong connection to eating disorders and white women. Socioeconomic class over time has become pretty clearly correlated to race, which is a big part of the "evaluations" when one group dates out. Are you dating up or down? Women of middle to upper-middle class do not want to become fat to be like "those icky poor people". Women don't want to become fat like one of those Wal-Mart patrons or those girls at bars that sweat the moment they walk in the door. They don't want to get fat and have no guy talk to them, sorry, no white guy talk to them. Becoming fat became a way to class yourself down.

These women do not want to put in the effort like yoga, weightlifting, watching their calories, not eating ice cream every night so why not just skip a meal? Far easier. Far far easier to just blame avoiding food on a food allergy, and boy, have those risen in incidence, so easy to hide there. This is another least resistance path as starving oneself is much easier than working on your body and counting the calories and eating balanced. Just avoid the food, make it disappear, and the problem goes away. At my high school, eating disorders were so rampant they routinely brought in speakers who spoke of losing it all from anorexia. The girls track team or swim team would listen, and no one would care. They passed on their disorder like a cold. It was more a ritual though as they repeated the same tricks to avoid eating.

There are long term consequences, and like obesity and other addiction issues, there is always the fear that it might come back. When a fat person does lose weight, it is a great thing, but there is the fear that those pounds will return. It's not unrealistic body image expectations and it is not pressure to be thin. Anorexics have agency and choose to compete on being thin. The obesity problem is human weakness and how we have shaped a society to consume now and think later. Yes, television advertisements push food non-stop, but fatties have agency. No one is shoving the Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pies in their face for them.

Grerp's essay on this subject is here.


Cash Gorman said...

I don't see much evidence of women starving themselves at anywhere near the rate of obesity. The average woman now has a waistline 10-12" larger than her grandmother had in 1960. In my community of some 150,000, a visibly anorexic woman is an extreme rarity, but fat women are everywhere, in fact the number of women over 25 less than 30lbs overweight are a rarity.

Son of Brock Landers said...

Cash - Very true. Anorexics/Bulimics are 1-2% of women while overweight/obese are 70%. Its still an interesting phenomenon where both rise in the same era.

Kevin Michael Grace said...

In recent memory, cooking from scratch was something most everyone did. Today, in this age of ever-increasing class stratification, cooking is heavily associated with the rich and with the aspirational (SWPL) class. So the lower orders regard cooking as above their station or reject it in a gesture of reverse snobbery.

Toddy Cat said...

"cooking is heavily associated with the rich and with the aspirational (SWPL) class"

Is this true? Holy crap, things have gotten weird in this country...

evolutionistx said...

I am skeptical of the idea that anorexia/bulimia has "risen" in any significant way over the past century. 100 years ago, women wore corsets. I remember a line in one of the Little House on the Prairie books in which the narrator commented that when her parents were wed, her mother's waist was so narrow, her father could fit his hands around it. That is either some corset or some hands. And this was not a fluke of the late-1800s--we see corseting or something similar in ladies' fashion going back for centuries.

We are told these days that in times of plenty, people idolize being thin, and in times of famine, they idolize being fat. Maybe in true famine. But the 1700s were hardly a time of rampant over-eating by the lower classes such that the wealthy would be squeezing themselves into corsets to distinguish themselves.

Obviously corsets and anorexia are not the same thing, but they both reflect the lengths women will go to for their appearances--so does footbinding--and if anything, our tendency to use these methods seems to have decreased rather than increased over the past century.

I recently read (well, the abstract of) a study that claimed that anorexics have some sort of difficulty estimating the weight of objects by looking at them. I do not know how significant this is or if the finding replicates, but it's a possibility. The vast majority of women diet (you know they are dieting because virtually all overweight women are on a diet,) but very few of them become visibly underweight. Twice in my life have I spotted someone on the street who looked like she was starving, but I've known plenty of women who were on some form of extreme diet/skipping meals/binge-purging. So perhaps the thing that triggers excessive dieting in some people is an inability to recognize when they've achieved their goal, rather than the extreme methods themselves.

Suburban_elk said...

The question of why people overeat is too easy to over-analyze. Why do women overeat, why do men drink, why do people get addicted to drugs?

This is a dysfunctional world we live in. There is not much more to say about it. It is so easy to fall off the edge. Let me tell ya about it, …

Civilization pulses. Humans are not evolved to it. What percentage of your ancestors lived and evolved in conditions where they could get their food without much trouble.

I was riding on the bus, today, and there is this girl who, like me, doesn’t really belong there (“Which of these is not like the other?”) and it’s clear that we both recognize that something is off, … and yet the chances of anything transpiring are zero. I am so done with it. This is not about my problems, but it’s just another life that doesn’t work out in this world. I am not looking for encouragement, i am saying that dysfunction is the new normal.

A lot of you guys pretend and aspire to success. More power, kudos and congratulations. My version of success is a different thing. I try to accomplish challenging things, and sometimes do and sometimes do not. But without a career and family, it’s conventional failure. Which is why i relate to blacks and Indians. They know about that shit. (I don’t relate to anybody anymore because anxiety but forget that for the larger point.)

I know that talking about your own struggle is bad form, but i would ask, What else is relevant? I don’t give a shit about the economy, and international relations matters to the extent that it inflects the mindset and actions of the people around here, which amounts to not negligible. But in other words let us get real.

As long as this is what it is, another point about Thanksgiving i wanted to make, is on the family table. What are we supposed to talk about? If i were inclined i would tell you of my (typical) experience but that compromises the only people i give a shit about. But it is another sad story. The men are not doing what they ought to, which is …

We watch football but don’t talk politics because they reveal our own limits and failures. They time to talk is done. We ought to be making plans about strategy. And we will (probably), when it comes to it, plans about the only thing that matters, the next growing season.

Robert Rediger said...

Anorexia and obesity are both mostly caused by anxiety. Anxiety is most often caused by having 'a weak core' which you can express as having no inherent dignity or no sense of identity. All mean similar things.

Other comorbid pathologies include gender dysmorphia, homosexuality, depression, cutting, feminism, Yale snowflake syndrome, trutherism, post-modern liberalism, borderline personality disorder and genuine OCD.

Obviously having one doesn't mean that you will have the rest. All have many factors and many causes but they also all share a single fundamental driver.

They mostly affect people who have no place in the world and have no solid sense of identity. They are both the cause of contemporary political discourse and its symptoms.

Suburban_elk said...


you lose

Suburban_elk said...

Allow me to add that i think Robert Rediger’s comment above is good and i agree with most of it. As far as making a contention of “trutherism” it rather depends on what exactly is meant by it - are we talking about the specifics of recent history as regards to the role played by conspiracy, or is what is being referred to a fixation on an occult-like explanation for events, a believing in a secret knowledge with expansive explanatory power. Those are two different things, but “trutherism” describes both of them.

In the first case, where the specifics of certain events, most famously 9/11, the Kennedy Assassination, and perhaps the Moon Landing, are considered and up for debate - to pretend that there is no room for debate about what happened there is the height of delusion. Denying that there are legitimate discussions on the historicity of these things, about their most important details, and dismissing those questions as occurrences of comorbidity - that is rigid and formulaic thinking that is typical of people well vested in the current contemporary thought patterns, and these people are often in professions such as law or something similar.

But trutherism often does overlap with a “delight” in esotericism. And the reasons for that overlap would be interesting to consider, but i am not going into that now. To the extant that someone believes that they figured out the secret to history and can’t shut up about it, that is some un-social behavior. I mean, who really wants to hear about the Grassy Knoll, one, more, time?

So why is there that conflation, between questions of contemporary history and politics, and the enthusiasm of a cult? I guess it has something to do with the lack of meaning in people’s lives.

The other thing in that comment to address is the concept of a personality core. That concept sounds right to me, but i would emphasize the role of a disordered and confusion environment, particular with mixed up racial arrangements and particularly on one group without an aggressive race identity of its own, and how someone’s core might be regarded as part of their general neurological health, and that comes and goes with the rest of holistic health patterns.

Aquarius Moon said...

A sedentary lifestyle has a negative effect on metabolism too. When we were kids, we ran, we skipped, we jumped and we tired our parents out. We could eat anything we wanted. At any age, we can still give our metabolism a boost and maintain our weight IF we remain physically active.

Robert Rediger said...

That makes sense. I included trutherism because for various personal reasons I know this type of core-less person very well and I see this type in truthers I speak to.