National Eating Disorders Association

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ctm430
Eating Disorders are not a Choice

I am doing a project for school and my topic is that eating disorders are not a choice, but rather a mental illness. No one chooses to have an eating disorder, and I believe that more people should know this. I would appreciate hearing different opinions on this topic and discussing it. Do you believe eating disorders are a choice or not and why?

BobJ48
Choice, or….Not ?

Oh brother, this is a contentious subject alright, and I suspect there will always be a number of differing takes on the question.

One take is this one : "When it comes to EDs, genetics loads the gun, and the environment pulls the trigger." The implication being that certain people have built in genetic susceptibilities, but may or may not end up getting an ED, depending on things that may or may not happen to them in their life.

"Tribal knowledge" among people who have EDs tends to support the genetic vulnerability theory. "The tribe" tends to believe that people can't just "catch an ED" unless they are genetically vulnerable to begin with. Which would mean that some people might actually be immune to getting an ED, no matter how hard they tried to work at it.

Twin studies ( look them up ) also support the genetic vulnerability theory. Something like 50% (or more) of a person's risk for getting an ED has been shown through twin studies to be genetic. That part has pretty much been proven I think.

As far as "choice" goes, talk to people who would love to be free of their EDs, and see what they say. People who are further on in their EDs generally experience true and ongoing distress at their inability to break free from their EDs.

Still, the choice thing is indeed something that people do talk about. The uninformed public can certainly see it that way, but it's just human nature that people tend to come up with explanations that support what they would prefer to be true, and not always the actual reality of things.

People who have EDs will sometimes talk about the choice thing too. But for those who consider it a choice or a "lifestyle" mostly you hear that kind of talk from people who are in the early stages of their EDs. The stage where they are successfully exerting control and experiencing feelings of accomplishment. Control over their intake and hunger I mean. When a person is feeling in control, their actions can indeed feel like mindful choices I suspect.

But later, when people begin to realize that things have turned end-to-end, and it's their ED that is now controlling them, you don't hear people talking about "choice" or "lifestyle" quite so much anymore.

Still, even though there's a lot of genetics involved, one has to look at environmental factors too I think. It's likely that there are people who are genetically vulnerable to EDs, but who never get them, because somehow they have managed to avoid the sorts of triggers that might start them down that path. But yeah, do they happen to avoid these triggers out of chance or good fortune ? Or are they making mindful choices to avoid them ?

I'm not sure there is a clear answer to that part, because triggers like abuse and other negative life events are not always things that people have much choice over. Whereas other vulnerable people might decide that they need to look like a slender person they've seen, and that "choice" might be what sets them off.

So when talking about "choice" and EDs. I think it's really important to consider what stage of their ED a person is in. Even the stage where they are at, and the events they are being exposed to, before they even get one, you know ?