Whilst there has been a whole host of debating going on throughout the years regarding the history of eating disorders such as Anorexia, one thing is undebatable, the history books do not lie…
Despite the many misconceptions people have surrounding eating disorders being a ‘modern-day illness’ due to our society’s obsession with appearance, this is most certainly not the case at all, as the reliable history books tell us.
It is indisputable that the way we prioritise our looks above all else does nothing to help the increase of eating disorders in modern day society, but it is important to recognise that eating disorders did not originate from this source of thinking. The reality, in fact, is that cases of eating disorders, most notably Anorexia, actually date back to medieval times.
The first reported case of Anorexia Nervosa was documented in 1689 by English Physician Dr Richard Morton. It was seen in an 18-year-old girl who appeared to be engaging in what, at the time, could only be described as some sort of ‘religious fasting.’
As more cases of the largely unknown disease began to surface, it was highlighted that the fasting was being done in an effort to achieve ‘spiritual purity.’
But, since religion has undoubtedly lost much of its influence over modern day society, why is Anorexia still so ripe within our culture? The reason is because today eating disorders are less about wanting to ‘be’ pure, instead they are more concerned with wanting to ‘look’ pure.
To put it simply, it can be concluded that the focus of Anorexia has moved away from religion and over to body image, something which today’s society is seemingly obsessed with- body image, and a quest for perfectionism and purity.
Whilst we can now recognise that the origins of Anorexia are deep rooted in religion and spirituality, there is still a lot to be learnt, and a lot to continue to learn, from looking back at history, as I have done in today’s post.
‘But, why?’, you may wonder, ‘why should we reflect on the past?’
Well, reflecting on the past is so important because, ultimately, it helps us to prevent history from repeating itself.
For example, did you know that Anorexia, in previous decades, was treated as an endocrine disorder/ hormone imbalance, as opposed to a mental health disorder? People with the disease were treated with pituitary hormones.
It wasn’t until the early 20th century that Anorexia started to be considered as potentially being a psychological condition rather than solely a physical one. It was at this time, in the early 20th century, that Anorexia was deemed acceptable for receiving both mental and physical interventions, such as a diet plan to facilitate weight restoration, as well as talking therapy to get to the root cause of the illness.
It is only by reflecting on past practices, such as those which I have outlined above, that we are able to identify what worked well and what didn’t work so well. Having this knowledge guides us to utilise the most effective approach for Anorexia treatment today.
As well as there being lots to learn from past reflection, additionally, there is also a lot to be learnt from looking forward to the future. Because, the fact of the matter is, although there is no denying that we have come so far in terms of the diagnosis, treatment, and subsequent recovery for Anorexia Nervosa patients, there is still so much more to be done.
We are still at a loss as to how much of an impact genetics have on the development of eating disorders.
We still do not know why, essentially starving ourselves, makes us feel ‘pure’ or ‘perfect.’
One thing we do know, however, is that recovery is so possible.
So, let’s just keep on pushing ‘til we get there, because we will.
One day, we will all get there, and we will never look back.