Understanding Mental Illnesses 4: Eating Disorders


In a society obsessed with image, it is easy to see why many people develop unrealistic attitudes about body shape and size. Although these attitudes are not healthy and can lead to inappropriate eating or dieting practices, they are not the same as having an eating disorder, and most people who are concerned about their body image and diet do not develop an eating disorder. It is often forgotten that eating disorders may not simply have to do with food, but may be associated with numerous emotional difficulties with identity, self-understanding and self-esteem. Eating disorders tend to emerge in youth and may lead to numerous psychological and physical problems – including death. Therefore, it is important to treat eating disorders effectively and quickly. This activity helps you to explore the symptoms, causes and treatments for anorexia (anorexia nervosa) and bulimia (bulimia nervosa) and involves analyzing popular images that could influence these disorders.


1. Research the possible causes, symptoms and treatments of anorexia and bulimia. Use the following sites to structure your research:

2. Brainstorm reasons why people are impacted by these disorders. Identify possible causes, symptoms, vulnerable groups and treatment options. If you are working online, check out these resources:
  • Thinklinkr : a fully collaborative online brainstorming software
  • Mind42 : Another collaborative brainstorming software
  • SlickPlan : Flowchart application

3. Browse through various media outlets (magazines, fashion journals, health magazines, online magazines etc.). Look for media images that present healthy body images, unhealthy body images and conflicting images (images with unclear messages about body types). Extract these images and make a collage. You can do this online with magazines and by searching for fashion and media images in Creative Commons or you can do this with hard copies of magazines in your classroom. If you are making a digital collage, you may choose to use one of the following tools:

4. Make a poster or brainstorming chart of the conflicting images and ideas identified (e.g., how easily were you able to identify images of 'un-realistic expectations' versus 'normal images and body sizes' and share it with the class in the Gallery. Be sure to select the appropriate assignment from the pulldown menu at the bottom of your submission.

Learning Objectives

  • Understand the differences between anorexia and bulimia
  • Learn about the complex set of causes associated with eating disorders
  • Explore the role that the media plays in portrayal of body images
  • Learn about possible reasons that eating disorders may emerge in both women and men

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