Eating Disorders in South Africa

Eating Disorders in South Africa

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 [1].

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 [1].

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 [2] 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.

Recognizing the impact of these stigmas and the specific issues affecting males in South Africa is an important step in raising awareness for eating disorders throughout region.

Treatment Options in South Africa

Dr. Szabo suggests that cultural factors keep many South Africans from seeking help relating to disordered eating [1].

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.

There is a variety of treatment options in South Africa available for those who do seek help, ranging from support groups to inpatient care.

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. 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

South Africa womanRaising 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.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

In what ways do you think urbanization contributes to the development of eating disorders?

Courtney Howard Image - 2-17-16About 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.


[1]: Stein, M. (2002). “Sociocultural Influences and Eating Disorders Around the Globe: Highlights of the 2002 International Conference on Eating Disorders.” Eating Disorders Review; May/June 2003 Volume 13, Number 3.

[2]: Freeman, A., Szabo, C. (2005). “Eating Disorders in South African Males: A Review of the Clinical Presentation of Hospitalised Patients.” South African Journal of Psychology November 2005 vol. 35 no. 4 601-622.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on November 28, 2016
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