October 2014

Extreme Eating, Eating Disorders, Obesity and Modern Medicine

Jennifer Lawrence’s recent interview with Vanity Fair has gained widespread attention for its coverage of the actor’s thoughts on the international “gluten-free” fad. Lawrence dismissed this purported health trend as “the new cool eating disorder,” giving rise to a wave of Internet debates. Blogs, gossip columns, and news sites alike are buzzing with the following question: has this new food trend, backed by such media giants as Gwyneth Paltrow, taken things too far?

For centuries, we have seen the rise and fall of extreme eating fads—from the consumption of parasitic worms to the Atkins and the Grapefruit Diets. And, although many dismiss these fads as harmless “crash diets,” modern researchers contend that crash dieters may fall victim to a serious eating disorder, “Orthorexia.” This disorder causes a dangerous obsession with eating only certain “good” or “clean” (or even “gluten-free”) foods, which may ultimately lead to malnourishment.  

The seriousness of the newly coined Orthorexia comes as no surprise in light of the current ubiquity of eating disorders. In the US alone, nearly 24 million people suffer from an eating disorder. In the UK, the number is estimated to be between 11 and 13 million. These figures are extremely frightening, especially given the fact that eating disorders have the greatest mortality rate of any mental illness. Additionally, and perhaps still more alarming, is the fact that the above figures are coupled by unprecedented rates of obesity and demands for obesity treatment. In the US, 78.6 million adults are deemed obese, and nearly a quarter of the UK population meets the same criteria.

Why have our eating habits become so extreme? And what is causing so many of us to dramatically under- and overeat? Recent research suggests that eating disorders and obesity may have more in common than you think. Cultural bias against weight, the consumption of “thin-spiring” media, and sedentary lifestyles are all factors that put individuals at risk for both ends of the extreme eating spectrum. Unrealistic physical standards in the media, relatively inactive lifestyles, and easy access to calorie-laden food all contribute to an international setting primed to give rise to extreme eating.


Armed with such information, both individuals and organizations are advocating for preventative programs targeted at young American and UK citizens. Furthermore, dedicated medical professionals around the world have developed weight loss procedures targeted to counteract the negative effects of extreme eating. Modern clinics in Prague, Czech Republic, are offering gastric balloons for patients with a BMI of greater than 30 and gastric sleeves for a BMI of greater than 35 as modern and effective treatment options.