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Eating Disorders

Am I fat?

This is the worst fear of the new generation, specially the teenage girl. While the older generation looks at weight control from the health point of view, this is a worry that plagues the average teenager from a more cosmetic viewpoint. Senior citizens reminisce nostalgically about the good old days when women had some flesh on their bones. Grandmothers are horrified by their scrawny grandchildren who say that “thin is in.” 

First Twiggy and then Kate Moss brought in the era of the waif – a being so ethereal, that she is almost non-existent. Although, fashion does not take such an extreme standpoint any more, the average fashion model still resembles a clothes hanger. What the average teenager must be made to understand is that these women are the exception rather than the norm. Every person is born with a particular body framework and bone structure that is determined genetically. Every person must learn to be comfortable with his or her body instead of blindly following fashion trends. It is a fact that some people look better with a little flesh on them. That does not mean that you should go to the other extreme and be complacent about being overweight. You have to find your own happy medium. Worry about being fit not fat.

This modern obsession with body weight when taken to an extreme can lead to the development of eating disorders like anorexia nervosa, bulimia and compulsive over-eating.
 

Anorexia: Starvation is not the answer

Anorexia nervosa has been described as “the willful pursuit of thinness through self-starvation.” Adolescents are most often affected by this disorder. People who have this disorder are really prisoners of their mind. They have a distorted perception of their body, seeing themselves as obese while in reality they are quite thin. The fear of putting on weight gnaws at them constantly. They are obsessive about losing weight, starving themselves to the point of emaciation. Anorexics are fixated on food. While they do not eat themselves, they will prepare elaborate gourmet meals for others and collect recipes. Besides unnatural weight loss, anorexia can result in the cessation of menstruation, constipation, discolouration of skin and the growth of fine body hair. Anorexics are usually perfectionists and tend to have low self-esteem. They are often depressed because they cannot meet the high standards that they set for themselves. 
 

Bulimia: The binge-purge syndrome

This is the phrase that describes the eating disorder known as bulimia. One of the most famous bulimics was Princess Diana. Bulimia is often the response to stress and depression. Bulimics derive comfort from food. When such people feel low or angry for some reason, food is their “pick-me-up.” They gorge themselves, preferably on high-calorie junk food. This gives them a “high” helping them to forget their troubles for a little while. Bulimics tend to be closet eaters. They gormandize secretly and then feel ashamed of their gluttony. They then induce themselves to vomit or take laxatives to purge themselves of the feeling of guilt. They have no control over their eating so they treat the effect rather than the cause by vomiting or taking laxatives. After a point bulimics can derive pleasure from the act of vomiting itself.

The pattern of binge and purge can result in ulcers, gastric and dental problems, acute disturbances in the chemical balances of the blood which could lead to heart attacks, sore throats, aching joints, and feelings of weakness, dizziness and apathy. 
 

Compulsive overeating: Food is my best friend

This is the refrain of a compulsive over-eater. This person is a food addict. The consequence of this addiction is usually obesity. A person who overeats compulsively sees food as the panacea for loneliness, isolation, boredom, depression, feelings of inadequacy. Food is a source of comfort when this person is feeling depressed, guilty or unattractive. Like most addictions, this is a vicious cycle. The more you eat, the more unattractive, helpless and out of control you feel. This makes you eat even more. And so it goes on.
 

There is a way out

Anorexics, bulimics and compulsive overeaters should seek help. They will probably be hospitalized initially to normalize their body functions. They should visit a psychologist or a counsellor to help them deal with their feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem. People who suffer from an eating disorder need to be handled gently. Their self-esteem is at a rock-bottom level. They need to feel that they are in control of their lives and to be told that they are accepted and attractive just the way they are. The counsellor will probably recommend behaviour modification therapy whereby the person is rewarded every time they reach a weight gain or weight loss target. Compulsive overeaters should try not to be alone for too long as far as possible. They should keep low calorie snacks around the house and try to distract themselves with physical activity every time they feel a craving for food.


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