South Africa is undergoing extreme urbanization and development, leading to a variety of cultural changes and unique issues affecting its population. Experts hypothesize that rates of eating disorders will rise rapidly with this urbanization.
The exact rates of eating disorders throughout South Africa are difficult to pinpoint due to the little research that has been conducted in this area. The hope is that raising awareness for eating disorders affecting South Africans will lead to increased research and improved treatment options.
Urbanization & Eating Disorders
The mental health community has begun to successfully chip away at the stigma surrounding eating disorders, including the myth that they are only a Western condition.
Dr. Christopher P. Szabo presented his views at the 2002 International Conference on Eating Disorders (ICED), serving as the only academic mental health professional specializing in eating disorders throughout South Africa at the time.
The intense “social and political transformations” occurring in South Africa, Szabo explains, will likely lead to a rise in eating disorders. With urbanization comes a clash of Western versus traditional South African cultures, impacting sense of identity, body image, cultural attitudes, and similar issues that can trigger disordered eating.
Other cultures have also seen a rise in eating disorders directly relating to the acceptance of Western ideals.
However, most of these cultures likely already had cases of eating disorders that went misdiagnosed or untreated due to the stigma and lack of awareness of disordered eating within these populations. This makes it difficult to know how deeply Westernization has impacted eating disorder rates worldwide.
Eating Disorders in South African Males
Males in South Africa face a unique double-stigma. The misperception that eating disorders cannot affect males is compounded by the myth that eating disorders only occur in Western populations.
As previously mentioned, the urbanization and general transitions occurring in South Africa might be contributing to increased rates of eating disorders in the area. Regardless, eating disorders can affect anyone in the world. This includes males of any skin color in South Africa.
A 2005 study  examined South African males in eating disorder treatment in an inpatient setting. Most were upper socioeconomic status, and as many as 76 percent were diagnosed with anorexia nervosa.
Treatment Options in South Africa
Dr. Szabo suggests that cultural factors keep many South Africans from seeking help relating to disordered eating.
For example, he shares that weight loss efforts to reduce rates of heart disease and diabetes in the region are generally rejected since weight loss within many South African communities is closely associated with HIV/AIDS.
EDSA is an online community for those struggling with eating disorders throughout South Africa. It offers support groups and an online forum, among other resources. RecoverySpace.org is another website for South Africa’s eating disorder community, offering treatment referrals and online support.
Montrose Manor is an eating disorder treatment center located in Cape Town that offers both residential and outpatient services. Most forms of insurance are accepted. Clinicians at Montrose Manor recognize the spiritual element of eating disorder recovery and have holistic programs to support the spiritual practices of clients.
Imani Addiction Services is another treatment center in Cape Town with an in-depth eating disorder program. Modalities practiced at Imani Addiction Services include schema therapy, art therapy, trauma debriefing, and life skills.
Bethesda Recovery and Crescent Clinic are both behavioral health facilities in South Africa that provide treatment for a variety of mental health and substance use disorders.
How to Raise Awareness
Raising awareness for eating disorders in South Africa and other parts of the world will likely lead to improved resources for individuals struggling worldwide. It is vital that we spread the word and destigmatize eating disorders in these regions.
Use your voice to debunk eating disorder myths and promote resources available in South Africa. By addressing the unique issues facing this population and acknowledging the many causes and forms of disordered eating around the globe, we can continue to reduce the misinformation and stigma surrounding eating disorders.
About the Author: Courtney Howard is the Director of Operations & Business Development at Eating Disorder Hope and Addiction Hope. She graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. from San Diego State University, holds a paralegal certificate in Family Law, and is a Certified Domestic Violence Advocate. After obtaining her certification as a life coach, Courtney launched Lionheart Eating Disorder Recovery Coaching in 2015 and continues to be a passionate advocate for awareness and recovery.