dieting may trigger genetic predispositions to eating disorders. The perception and scientific understanding of eating disorders has come a long way in the last few years, according to Professor Howard Steiger, who works at Montreal’s Douglas University.
In an interview with abc.net.au, Professor Steiger observed that people used to be of the opinion that eating disorders, like anorexia are the result of family issues or pressure applied by the media to appear young and healthy.
However, the academic explained that there are certain inherent factors that can lead people to think they need to be thinner than they are naturally.
"Anybody can have an inbuilt susceptibility but what we're really talking about here is the ways in which people who carry proneness to anxiety or things like that can then become very vulnerable to the effects of malnutrition brought on by too much dieting," Professor Steiger remarked.
"We used to think of genetic things as kind of programs that were fixed, you carried certain genes, you were condemned to have certain kinds of traits throughout your life.
"Now we understand that genes are much more sophisticated than that, they kind of learn from the environment, they respond to environmental pressure.”
He explained that there are three distinct factors and stages in life that can ultimately lead to the development of an eating disorder.
Firstly, Professor Steiger said, the problem can develop while you’re still in the womb, with the nutritional state and stress levels of your mother playing a large part in how your genes are "expressed".
Stress experienced during the early stages of your life is important, too.
Ultimately, however, dieting is often a strong determining factor in the onset of eating disorders. He argued, in fact, that around 15 per cent of female population will develop issues with eating and body image and they come to regard these concerns as an eating disorder.
Professor Steiger said that this issue will not blight the lives of so many people forever, pointing out that drugs that switch on favourable genetic effects and switch off unpleasant ones are currently being developed.