Most of us are brought up in a culture of self-hatred – we never like what we see in the mirror. Every one of us thinks we would be ‘Perfect’ if only we were a little thinner, a little fairer, had a little less hair on our body, had a shapelier figure and so on. What we often tend to overlook is what is good and desirable in us – good hair, expressive eyes, blemish-free skin and so on. It is because of such thoughts that people fall into the trap of constantly checking their weight, not being able to enjoy what they eat because they are too busy counting calories. This, in turn gives rise to bigger problems of body image and eating, all of which come under the name Anorexia Nervosa or just Anorexia. Experts define Anorexia Nervosa as a body image disorder in which the affected person refuses to maintain a healthy body weight, and an obsessive fear of putting on too much weight due to a distorted image of oneself. In the Western countries, it is recognized and there are dedicated psychiatrists and medical practitioners who treat such disorders. There are also, specialized rehabilitation centres for all those suffering from it and, at times, teenage girls are seen sharing the podium with their favourite pop stars and film stars. However, in India, such psychological disorders are often not recognized, especially when youngsters are burdened with the twin responsibility of carving a career as well as matching up to standards of what the society calls beautiful.
Causes And Symptoms Of Anorexia
Anorexia Nervosa, often coupled with bulimia – which is forced and induced vomiting to lose weight – is a situation that could be caused both by biological as well as environmental factors. The biological factors contributing to it range from obstetric factors to those relating to the autoimmune system. However, the environmental factors that contribute to it have the most profound impact on the psyche of youngsters. Since the idea of "size zero" entered the market, women (and sometimes even men) have wanted to fit into this mould that was created by fashion labels, apparently to save on fabric being used. It soon turned into the latest buzzword with women and even young teenage girls soon catching up to it and doing whatever they could to fit into the size that only someone from impoverished Somalia could fit into. Also, since the world has always leaned in favour of those who are thinner (though not necessarily fitter), especially the celebrities, the demand being completely on their looks rather than credit given to any other attribute, many a celebrity also fall into this trap of being totally obsessed with their body – their weight, how big or small each part is, excessive calorie counting and so on.
Till very recently, it was thought that Anorexia Nervosa is nonexistent in India and the problems and the angst of teenage girls, who had to fit into the norms set by someone else, went unheard and unattended. It is only nowadays that people are coming to realise as to what a serious impact it can have on the psyche of a young person. Also, India still doesn’t have enough rehabilitation centres and other support groups where people affected by it could voice their concerns.
Here are a few giveaway signs of Anorexia Nervosa
- An obvious, rapid, dramatic weight loss, perhaps due to constant gyming or refusing to eat or both
- Russell's sign, which is scarring of the knuckles from placing fingers down the throat to induce vomiting, is another sign that one should watch out for
- Lanugo, or the appearance of soft, fine hair grows on face and body is another give away
- You will also notice, in the person concerned, a never-before obsession with calories and fat content
- Another sign of Anorexia Nervosa is the constant preoccupation with food, recipes, or cooking; may cook elaborate dinners for others but not eat themselves
- The person concerned may continue dieting in spite of being thin or dangerously underweight
- They will exhibit a fear of gaining weight or becoming overweight.
- Rituals: Cuts food into tiny pieces; refuses to eat around others; hides or discards food
- Purging: Uses laxatives, diet pills, ipecac syrup, or water pills; may engage in self-induced vomiting; may run to the bathroom after eating in order to vomit and quickly get rid of the calories
- The person affected may also engage in frequent, strenuous exercise.
- One sure thing that people miss is that the person affected perceives himself or herself to be overweight despite being told by others they are too thin.
- The person affected by anorexia would frequently complain of being cold due to loss of insulating body fat; this happens because the body temperature lowers in effort to conserve calories.
- The affected people might get into depression: may frequently be in a sad, lethargic state because they often lack energy
- Solitude: May avoid friends and family; becomes withdrawn and secretive
- Clothing: May wear baggy, loose-fitting clothes to cover weight loss
- Cheeks may become swollen due to enlargement of the salivary glands caused by excessive vomiting.