Depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and culture

I know I write a lot on biology, and its importance in relation to eating disorders. Part of this is because I strongly believe in the importance of biology, and part of this is that I feel the cultural issues surrounding EDs get plenty of coverage already, so I tend to leave them alone.

But there was some interesting new research that looked at the relationship between negative mood, body image, and EDs in two different cultures. The authors compared groups of anorexic and healthy women from both France and Poland, and looked at how symptoms and duration of depression and anxiety affected both body image and eating disorder symptoms. Even considering that both groups of women were from Europe (though one from behind the Iron Curtain and one, well, not), the researchers still found differences between the two groups.

Both groups of anorexic women had higher anxiety and depression than healthy women, but the Polish anorexics had higher levels of depression than French anorexics. Depression in the anorexic Polish women increased both with age and Body Mass Index, but had no relationship to how long the women had been ill.

In the group of Polish women, high levels of anxiety corresponded to high levels of maturity fears and interoceptive awareness (i.e., the physical state of your body, like hunger, thirst, etc). In the French women, however, high levels of depression corresponded to higher levels of bulimia, ineffectiveness, interpersonal distrust, interoceptive awareness and maturity fears.

I'm not discounting the importance or relevance of the specific correlations the authors found, but that's not what I found really interesting. What this study says to me is that symptoms of anxiety and depression are important in the development of eating disorders no matter what culture you're from. But the details of this relationship can vary depending on your environment. Which just makes a whole lot of sense: people with EDs aren't (oh, the pun!) cookie-cutter people. Although there are remarkable similarities in people suffering from EDs, there are lots of differences, too.


Jessi said...

i love your posts.

hope u r ok carrie

take gentle care


Lynn (The Actors Diet) said...

Very interesting. I think there is a direct correlation between Asian cultures and eating disorders, just because it's so part of the culture to critique one another (mostly negatively) and also make everyone eat. I addressed some of this in a comic story I wrote, and when I looked up research on the subject I didn't find anything. So it's just my own little theory.

Lissy said...

well, i know i was depressed and anxious. so were/are my eating disordered friends. i know my eating is doing well -- i can't tell if my anti-depressant helps. it helps me get out of bed and not cry about EVERYTHING. but i'm really not sure about the eating.

i too hope you are well.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the study! I've always been interested in cultural differences in eating disorders, because as a Chinese-American, I used to be in the minority in every treatment group. My ED past is still a secret to my grandparents and my family in China, because my parents and I have decided it would just be simpler not to tell them.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy said...

Very Interesting Post!!
Take Care.......

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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