People are starving for perfection these days

Food is life. Calories satiate the appetite and sustain the body. We are conditioned from birth to consume food. Infants learn to associate the warm, loving embrace of their caregiver with the delicious life-giving taste of milk. Food is a source of energy while promoting health.

Good food is a source of pleasure for the palate and soul, while many social interactions revolve around eating. Some individuals even get enjoyment from preparing meals and watching others enjoy the flavors. Tempting desserts such as chocolate and cheesecake soothe and caress the taste buds as they melt on the tongue providing instant satisfaction.

Yet, for those individuals struggling with anorexia nervosa, life becomes a personal battle for control with food as the designated enemy. People who suffer from anorexia deny the body’s need to eat. They do not receive gratification or nutritional benefit from the food they fearfully avoid. Our response to food is conditioned, but anorexics choose to override that response and starve themselves in an attempt to achieve perfection.

Society imparts a standard of perfection that most will never achieve. The average American woman wears a size fourteen in clothing. Yet, the supermodels admired on TV and in magazines wear a size two! Young people create body dissatisfaction and potential body hatred when they compare themselves with the unachievable body types found in the media.

In an attempt to obtain the ideal promoted by the media, many young women resort to dieting, binging, purging and even starving.

Compared to the rest of the world, we live in a society of wealth and abundance. Most Americans have not experienced the pain and malnourishment of hunger. Conversely, we are overwhelmed by high caloric food options containing copious amounts of fat and sugar. The question is not when we will eat next, but what we will eat. Having access to excessive amounts of food only compounds the problem for those struggling with an eating disorder.

Each year thousands of young adolescents and children, both women and men, develop eating disorders or eating disordered behaviors. Instead, of determining how much is enough, many anorexics avoid the object of their obsession by choosing not to eat at all. The goal of counseling is to find a balance that maintains health and happiness, while addressing the issues that led to the eating disorder in the first place.

Solutions exist. Addressing the behavior and getting help is the first step. Perfectionism is not achievable. Instead, learn to accept yourself for who you are.

Jennifer L. Gray, Ph.D., is a private practice psychotherapist who provides individual, couple and family counseling. To contact Dr. Gray call (253) 653-0168 or write Psychotherapy Associates, Parklane Executive Center, 31620 23rd Avenue South, Suite 318, Federal Way, WA 98003.

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