Gauging ourselves on a scale of appearance


According to guissinguer (2003) anorectics, “…react to loss of body weight by displaying adaptive responses that originally evolved to facilitate leaving food depleted areas.” Discuss.

Anorexia is a disorder attributed to attempts to attain a fashionable shape, but numerous studies suggest that it is possible for psychological and societal factors to contribute in the development of this disorder. According to Kaye et al. (1998), anorexia is a disorder characterized by unusual feeding habits, weight control, perceptions of weight and shape, and the view of body shape. In this context, the people involved diet because they fear gaining weight. Nevertheless, the etiology of anorexia is complex, but numerous studies suggest that social, biological, and developmental process influence its growth.

Interestingly, the manner in which these processes interact to enhance its growth remains a mystery. Apparently, views towards the levels of attractiveness in a given society may influence the psychopathology of eating disorders, but thinness is common in the Western culture, and anorexia affects only 0.3-0.7% of the female population. This only suggests that there are other factors, which enhance the development of this disorder, other than the mentioned ones. Nevertheless, anorexia has a stereotypic clinical, sex, and age presentation a factor that supports biologic vulnerability.

Although this is the truth, not entirely, Ginsinger (2003) suggests that psychological and societal factors may influence the decision to diet, but they do not account for the phenomenology of this disorder. Therefore, the author further suggests that some of the symptoms, such as refraining from food, denial of starvation, and hyperactivity are some of the adaptive approaches applied by nomadic foragers leaving depleted settings. In addition, Guinsinger (2003) suggests that the disorder was genetic, and people descending from the “nomadic foragers” were susceptible to these adaptive mechanisms when they lose too much weight.

According to Fredrickson et al. (1998), cultural factors may lead to restrained eating. A typical example is the American culture, which emphasizes on the observance of the physical look of women. Using the objectification theory, the author tries to show that the body shape a woman has will have the capacity to induce restrained eating habits. Wondering how people think about one is enough to instigate self-presentational concerns. In so doing, when individuals try to design a self-view from other people’s perceptions, will always produce a prejudiced result as the outcome.

When women view themselves through a veil of sexism, which involves gauging themselves on a scale of physical appearance, this is actually objectifying, and it is an unrealistic standard of beauty. This kind of perspective is dangerous because it can lead to bad psychological effects, mental health problems, and even development of anorexia, or obesity. Fredrickson et al. (1998) states that this sexual objectification will often lead to self-objectification; girls and women treat themselves as objects for assessment based on their physical look. This being the case, where the physical appearance can shape their social and economic life, many girls, and women will often anticipate the social repercussions of their physical appearance.

Therefore, when girls and women are attracted to their own physical appearance, Fredrickson et al. (1998), suggests it qualifies as an adaptive strategy. This is because the pressures the women might undergo in the process will make them improve their physical beauty, which in turn will make them perceive their attraction to their physical appearance as natural. In addition, this self-objectification may lead to instances of shame, concerning the physical looks. It is often the case when during evaluation one feels short the society’s requirement on the physical looks. To avoid shame, the women will acquire adaptive mechanisms, which will motivate them to alter their physical appearance (Tangney et al., 1996).

Restrained eating has a correlation to shame; this is because it can influence the eating habits, which could in turn bring about some health issues such as obesity or anorexia. However, this does not entirely provide empirical proof towards this behavior. In some instances, the theory tries to explain girls and women had no option but to achieve a likeable body shape to avoid shame (Tangney et al., 1996). Nevertheless, dieting may have adaptive benefits, only in instances of limited resources, which in this case, we find that avoiding shame, and making it through the society, a woman had to appear likeable. Therefore, Fredrickson et al. (1998), in some instance is agreeing with Guinsing (2003), especially in the adaptive mechanism context.

Currently, in the modern society, people have numerous opportunities to eat plentifully, anytime any place, but explaining anorectics from this perspective is not simple. While the individuals in anorectics willingly refrain from food to become extremely thin, this situation might assist in explaining the case for obese people. However, although, it may offer an insight to obesity, the availability of food might not be of any assistance in explaining the type of behavior associated with the obese people (Appetite, 2006). The lack of an approach to explain this eating behavior, which amount to life-threatening situations, in both anorexia and obesity, makes Guinsinger (2003) explain the behaviors using “the adaptive mechanism concept.”

Eating disorders are becoming popular, and in an attempt to explain the obesity eating behavior, we have witnessed numerous studies on the topic. Appetite (2006) states that, from an evolutionary point-of-view, human beings have evolved to consume more food than required “to meet their immediate nutritional needs as a buffer against future periods of food scarcity” (Appetite 2006, pp. 1). Using this it becomes easier to suggest that the human system will regulate weight by promoting eating levels, which maintain the required energy for the body and levels needed to maintain or help the body functions, and allows for storing of the excess energy that the body will use in times of famine.

Therefore, overeating is a strategy used by our ancestors to adapt to the prevailing conditions, which was plenty of food. Owing to this, it is then apparent that, in the modern society, food consumption is not central to the availability of food. It is an adaptive response to the uncertain future famine. Notably, the popular psychosomatic family model, which therapists utilize in offering an explanation to the origins of eating disorders, is in the verge of complete denial because there is numerous empirical evidence refuting. Eisler (2005) suggests that numerous studies have provided empirical evidence on biological factors, which contribute to the development of anorexia; however, providing an account of its origin becomes a complicated task.

Although Eisler (2005) suggests that family therapies are effective for eating disorders, the studies undertaken in this area are small, and they have numerous methodological issues. In addition, there have been no comparisons with other approaches, no systematic analysis and the unknowns are too much as compared to the known of anorexia. Therefore, this on one hand refutes the availability of enough empirical evidence on this issue. This further suggests that one cannot use the therapy to explicate and etiology for anorexia. One thing one cannot refute is that anorexia is among the abnormal psychological behaviors. This is because it has a correlation with disturbances in the thought, emotion and behavior, disordered thinking, and it is hard to uncover confidently the entire causes of these disorders to establish methods of treatment (Kring et al., 2006).

Owing to the information provided, it is apparent those in clinical terms, there lacks an effective model to explain the etiology of some psychological disorders. There exist models and therapies, but some of them have empirical evidence against their effectiveness in subsequent treatment, to establishing the root causes of the disorders. Notably, some disorders have shown genetic origins; therefore, trying to establish the cause becomes a complicated task. Nevertheless, cultural factors have shown substantial influence in the development of anorexia. However, merging evidence suggests that anorexia is familial meaning it traces its roots to genetic transmission. This means that even the family therapies conducted may not be effective in treating such a psychological disorder.

Using the information as our point of reference, Guinsing (2003) might have observed this, and that is why he made the statement “…. react to loss of body weight by displaying adaptive responses that originally evolved to facilitate leaving food depleted areas.” From an evolution perspective, of human beings, one can link a human phenomenal, or disorder using gene transmission, to explain why a particular disorder exists in particular people, from specific families. Therefore, Guinsing (2003) noted the consistency of this disorder in some anorectic cs and attributed the phenomenal to a potential adaptive mechanism.

A typical example is the observation of the loss of menses in anorectic females, which was a means to delay reproduction. In the same context, using this delay of reproduction as a point of evidence, the desire to regulate or control weight, a phenomenal rampant in females, is an evolutionary adaptive mechanism, which the ancestral girls reduced the quick development of their sexual maturation as a response to views concerning the probability of poor reproductive success. Empirically, many anorectic pre-pubertal girls show delayed menarche, and cease of menses in previously menstruating girls is enough proof of an adaptive mechanism originating from the ancestral girls.

In the same perspective, it is possible to connect starvation with poor times for reproducing. In this case, people or the ancestors had an adaptive mechanism in order to survive the ordeal, which nowadays is anorexia. On the other hand, plentiful of food, in the case of obesity, can connect to times when the ancestors had ample harvest. This would lead to plentiful eating as an adaptive mechanism to survive during the famine times, or starvation times. On the other hand, numerous studies support the fact that the etiology of anorexia remains unknown and experts have suggested that the disorder may have origins from inheritable disorders in the endocrine system and neuro-transmitters involved in appetite. In addition, heritability estimates for anorectics is high, as well as they have abnormal concentrations of hormones and neuro-transmitters (Kaye et al., 1998).

Many of the neuro-endocrine disorders arise due to genetic defects. Notably, in the normal starvation, the observation in the neuro-endocrine system leads to hunger, not refraining from food. Normalization of these defects happens with the normalization of the body weight through a regular eating pattern, and when experts make this their primary etiological factors when studying anorexia, they fail miserably. Instead of classifying functionally coordinated neurophysiologic factors as defects, it is more proper to classify them as a mechanism, which the ancestors applied to flee famine.

Although experts suggest that numerous eating disorders, may develop due to pressure to attain a body viewed as appropriate by a given culture, and one may develop anorexia owing to the psychological and biological vulnerability, they do not explain why anorectics portray distinct symptoms. Therefore, Guinsing (2003) suggests that integrating these models or approaches into a Darwinian approach, will work well to explain the etiology, and offer a broad insight into uncovering the puzzle behind anorexia. He further states that the anorexia symptoms of restricting food, and denial of starvation shows the function of adaptive approaches that ancestors applied to respond to famine.

In conclusion, anorexia remains a mystery to the medical fraternity. The condition has shown it has genetic origins, and the therapeutic models in place to explain the etiology of the condition have failed. Nevertheless, experts continue to term the condition as a defect, but Guinsing (2003), suggests that the condition arises from coordinated neurophysiologic factors, and it qualifies as a mechanism applied by ancestors to flee famine. In addition, the lack of empirical evidence on this issue puts the author’s concept at the forefront of acceptance unless otherwise. In addition, Guinsing (2003) suggests that it will be possible for experts to offer a solution to this situation if they integrate and use Darwinian framework.


Appetite. (2006). Monographic: Evolutionary perspectives on overeating and overweight. Appetite, 47 (1), pp. 1-35.

Eisler, I. (2005). The empirical and theoretical base of family therapy and multiple family day therapy for adolescent anoxeria nervosa. Journal of Family Therapy, 27, pp. 104-131.

Fredrickson, B.L., Roberts, T.A., Noll, S.M., Quinn, D.M., & Twenge, J.M. (1989). That swimsuit becomes you: Sex differences in self-objectification, restrained eating, and math performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 75, pp. 269-284.

Guisinguer, S. (2003). Adapted to Flee Famine: Adding an Evolutionary Perspective on Anorexia Nervosa. Psychological Review, 110, pp. 745-761.

Kaye, W., Gendall, K., & Strober, M. (1998). Serotonin neuronal function and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor treatment in anorexia and bulimia nervosa. Biological Psychiatry, 44, pp. 825-838.

Kring, A.M., Davidson, G.C., Neale, J.M., & Johnson, S.L. (2006). Chapter 9: Abnormal Psychology (10th Edition). New York: John Wiley & Sons Inc.

Tangney, J.P., Miller, R.S., Flicker, L., & Barlow, DH (1996). Are shame, guilt, and embarrassment distinct emotions? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 70 (6), pp.1256-1269.

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