Notes on History of Eating Disorders
Ancient Greece/Rome: It has been written that at this time people would refuse to eat as well as gorge themselves and vomit. That was because there was lack of knowledge. They thought food is was causing disease.
It would be many thousands of years later that we’d realize things were going on, on a microscopic level.
Middle ages: Form of anorexia similar to what we’d see today.
It has been written that people used to think anorexia was miraculous (hence the term anorexia mirabilis).
Opposed to "melancholia" (which was what today's Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder would be referred to as) that would have had people go through excorsisms to try to rid of their "demons".
There was an epidemic of females starving. It was common and a serious issue.
People were eating very little or things with insignificant nutritional value.
At the time, most thought “Oh, anorexics they’re so holy and devout.” Some people would fast to repent for their sins or else they thought they would go to hell.
“How do they survive on such small amounts of food? They are such special people.” people thought of anorexia at the time.
Saint Catherine of Siena is a name that pops up quite frequently. She was pretty well the first figure that put a face on Eating Disorders. She was quoted as saying She was incapable of eating “normal earthy fare.”
The starvation epidemic was brought because those who were effected didn’t feel they were good enough in the face of their God.
Anorexics were admired.
A modern spin on this thinking that we see today is people still have this kind of attitude of strength toward eating disorders, “oh I wish I had a little bit of anorexia”, thinking of how strong it is for you to restrict food.
Couple hundred years later: churches started thinking of how ‘evil’ this behaviour was and now it was the work of the devil. So, they soon tried to stop people from doing that. They didn’t like people starving anymore.
1689: Richard Morton was pretty much the first person to really notice and write about how it was a problem for people in his practise. He wrote in his documents of “nervous consumption” “Sadness and anxious cares”.
He was one of the first to realize there was something more that’s happening with these people.
At the time not all agreed with this nervous description.
The word Anorexia means “loss of appetite”. If you ask any anorexic…yes they get hungry. You might lose your hunger cues/forget how to eat. Overall the word is really a misnomer.
Another man in the same field of work who came around after Richard Morton’s time was Robert Whytt who points out that nervous peoples heart rate speeds up. He noticed in a young male anorexic that the pulse was slower.
19th century: We’re beginning to learn that not eating could be a problem on its own. Doctors are scratching there heads “there’s people who’d deliberately starve themselves? It must be something else.”
They eventually realized this is indeed a separate thing on it’s own.
It was late at that point to discover this because the behaviour had been established. Women were starving themselves and now it had been embedded in their heads. The seed had been planted.
This was the beginning of the “Rich white girls disease”.
You had to look different from the working class. Corsets had been introduced much earlier on as well all to make the higher class look different from everybody else. Also, the family played a role in why people starved too…it was becoming quite a complex issue.
1870: Sir William Withey Gull said “staving disease”. His point was that it’s in the patients mind. He may have been the first to use the word nervosa, but this is unclear because around the same time, EC Laseque over in France was saying the exact same thing.
Now, we have the term nervosa and are beginning to have a break through into how we look at this problem.
It’s causes still unknown.
“Maybe women think they are orally impregnating themselves?”
There were very early theories beginning to start, but many which question the patients intelligence.
Also, bulimia had existed throughout history too, but the only difference was that it wasn’t as noticeable. It is very secretive. Both illnesses can be secretive, but bulimics tend to maintain weight though they are both horrendous illnesses with serious effects.
They would both become recognized as eating disorders with differences in the symptoms.
20th century: It’s interesting to note that bigger women used to be viewed as more of what men wanted in earlier centuries. If people were to have a child, usually, a man wanted to find someone who could carry on their family name, and wouldn’t want to mate with a women who looked physically unhealthy. This did not seem to be an issue anymore as the emergence of the “thin is in” movement during the late 60s and 70s.
It was Karen Carpenter, one of the greatest singers in music history, who passed away from anorexia 1983 at the age of 32. We learned that gaining weight too fast could kill someone by putting too much strain on the heart.
For the first time society could stare at this problem in the face.
The impact of her death was immense, and tragically she was trying to get better near the end.
In 1993 Princess Diana started speaking publicly about eating disorders and her struggles with bulimia.
After she had talked about her issues there was a surge of bulimic patients, and it was only because people could now say “I have this problem too”.
Psychiatry, still a reletively new science, has had a rough history, and tried different methods to help patients, but they were not being as successful as today. There is no cure, but atleast they are not “bringing the patient down and then building them back up” or doing inhumane ways of treatment.
2000's: Over the last decade in the eating disorders have begun to be recognized on more of a spectrum, but the two extremes (anorexia/bulimia) remain.
Culturally, Eating disorders may not have to do so much with the separation of classes; however, there is "Hollywood" versus the working class. Today’s western culture feels pressure about their body image and of pursuing ‘perfection’. Feelings of not good enough or being out of control comes from ones personal experience , but the media plays an influence in this day and age as they try to sell an image.
The motive for making people feel not good enough: money. If people felt good about themselves the economy would faulter.
Accounts of males with eating disorders have appeared all throughout history. Not sure why males aren’t mentioned as frequently, but they are there and being noticed too. Because of gender roles men tend to suppress their emotions. Males have shared the same feelings about, for example, religion throughout time (not being good enough for their God).
They also struggle with body image as well in modern times. Men are supposed to be strong and muscular or so we see in classic depictions of the male body. These days we’re not working as much as we used to and we try desperately to still get that ‘ancient look’ or have lean muscle.
Men are sensitive and insecure as well. (There have been many documented cases of male anorexics throughout time. Richard Morton, Robert Whytt, Robert Willan all wrote about males in their practise. Willan wrote of a man who died after fasting for a long period of time having to do with religion).
We’re just beginning to understand what Eating Disorders are, their causes, and treatment.
In most cases of overcoming an illness the recovery period has a level of pain and hardship involved.
Most recently, we’re starting to recognize BED (binge eating disorder) as an issue. In fact, ‘obesity’ was rumoured to be added into the newest issue of the DSM due to be released in May 2013.