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Introduction to eating disorders

In this video by the Università di Torino we begin our introduction of eating disorders, including the role that society might play in their genesis
Eating disorders , as defined by the American Psychiatric Association, are abnormal eating habits that have an effect on physical or mental health. Some of them, like anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa or binge eating disorders are well known, while other are less common – for example, pica, or the ingestion of non-foods material such as metals or soil. the causes of eating disorders are still unknown, and there is a universal agreement that multiple
factors are involved: biological, such as genetics; psychological, such as personality traits; environmental factors such as peer pressure, social and cultural influences. Experts often underline the social and cultural aspects of eating, for instance by pointing out the standards of beauty proposed by the media and by celebrities. The social role in causing eating disorders means that as society changes, eating disorders can change too. For instance, twenty or thirty years ago anorexia nervosa was believed to affect almost exclusively young females, and the number of cases among men was very low.
However, it was found that the number of new cases of anorexia between the late 90s and late 2000s doubled between young females, but increased fivefold between young males We are not only assisting to the “spreading” of existing eating disorders to new sectors
of the population, but new disorders are emerging: it’s the case, for instance, of bigorexia, orthorexia, or diabulimia. These names might sound weird, but they indicate new and abnormal pattern of eating that were almost unknown only a few years ago. orthorexia nervosa is probably the most studied of the 3, and will be discussed in more detail in a lecture this week – in short, it is a behavior characterized by excessive preoccupation with eating healthy food, and was virtually unknown before the late ‘90s. bigorexia, also called “muscle dysmorphia”, is characterized by a distorted bodily perception. it affects more commonly men than women, and people who suffer from it see themselves as too thin and non-muscular.
this leads to unhealthy diets, to excessive exercise and to the use of drugs that can speed up the process of muscle building, such as anabolic steroids. It is probably not a case that both orthorexia
and bigorexia were described in the same period: in the early nineties, healthy eating came under the spotlight and low-fat craze lead to the creation of a new market and to new foods product tailored to satisfy the new market trend. at the same time, new standards of beauty for men were pushed by fashion magazines and by the rising as superstars of top athletes. eating disorders are indeed a difficult topic, and we are far from understanding how nature and nurture interact in causing them. In the next lecture, we will adopt the neuroscientific approach, and we will discuss some findings about anorexia and bulimia, including the consequences on the brain of these eating disorders.

Eating disorders are a complex entity.

We can distinguish very different level of eating disorders analysis, starting from society, to family, to the individual and to components of the individuals, such as genes, neurons or synapses. The role of society in eating disorders means that their definition and their perception can shift with time, and new disorders can emerge, such as ortorexia or bigorexia.

In this step, we will introduce the topic of eating disorders. The remaining step of this activity will focus on the separate points – from orthorexia to the neuroimaging correlates of anorexia or bulimia.

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