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Eating Disorders: Under-eating

Living to Not eat

There goes a popular saying indulging in dilemma about whether we live to eat or eat to live. Whatever be the confusion, food is one of the primary pleasures human existence embraces. Why would someone refuse to eat? To the point, that the fear of imminent death too cannot dispel the fear of food. Eating disorders usually develop when one is young. Probably in their teens or pre-teens, where a voice inside the head keeps telling you that food is dangerous for you. It messes with the way you look. Self image has a big role to play in developing eating disorders. A big part of the  problem borrows from cultural ideals linking beauty with thinness; although individuals suffering from eating disorders get obsessed with starving themselves to the point they become dangerously underweight.

Keeping it out of your system

Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are the two most well-known disorders where the individual has an unnatural obsession with getting overweight even when their BMI ratios border on dangerously low and scary proportions. Eating is mortally painful as any morsel of food taken comes with a million skewered thoughts on getting unbearably fat, ugly and repulsive to look at. Anorexia literally takes the meaning ‘loss of appetite’. In Bulimia, there are periods of binge eating large amounts of food followed by purging the same through forceful vomiting or taking laxatives. In both cases individuals tend to resort to extreme exercise, running or jogging  in order to cut down weight owing to perpetually encroaching thoughts of getting fat. Anorexia is more fatal than bulimia and the risk of death is far more in patients with the two overlapping conditions. Anorexia Nervosa is characterized by a dramatic refusal to put any food inside the body.  If not death, over-starving oneself can lead to severe interruption of menstruation cycles often the loss of periods for months on end, brittle and flaky hair, gastrointestinal and cardiovascular problems.

Culture and psychological illness

Eating disorders are more psychological than physical. In fact they are entirely psychological. Concepts of dieting, having a zero size body are largely western concepts. Known from the earliest times, whale bone corsets have been worn by women to have their waists slimmed to points that later age media representations have borrowed from unnaturally proportioned body measurements. The fixation with unnaturally thin bodies appears in animated figures in movies and cartoons or children’s playthings like Barbies and Bettys. In fact research has shown that cultures that haven’t been exposed to western ideals and media representations liking ultra thinness with perfect beauty are societies where  trends like dieting or disorderly eating habits are  unfamiliar and alien concepts. Unfortunately most of the world has borrowed the concept of thin as beautiful and engrained it deeply. Even in famous teen pop bands like the very popular genre of K-Pop we see performers including both men and women toning down their bodies to extremely petite proportions obtained only through rigorous dieting. It is unfortunate that culture and society superimpose fantasy structures and shapes for women( and even men) over what real human bodies should look like.

Are both genders equally affected?

Research has shown that anorexia and bulimia are more likely to affect females than males although males too were affected. Males are reported to resort more to overeating and using excessive exercise for weight control. Females are less or equally likely to resort to this trend however dieting and purging are recorded to have a greater play for women than men.

Eating disorders are difficult to treat especially since the one suffering feels a loss of control if they are force-fed by themselves or others. Psychological therapy is helpful. But what is most important is to raise healthy children with healthier ideas and notions of beauty and in environments of love and care as lots of times, refusal of food is just a manifestation of a subconscious refusal to carry on living.  

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