Health, Lifestyle

Anorexia: when food takes control of life

“If you’re hungry, count to a thousand; you’ll realise before finishing that it’s not worth continuing to put fat into your body. Take a sip of water for each bite of food,  then you will soon feel full. Try food and spit it out, repeat this as many times as you need to calm anxiety.”


Iria Leiros Perez

It’s frightening to know how easy it is to access pro-anorexia pages on the internet, where suffers share tips like these, to lose weight and fight against your own body.

Anorexia is recognised as an illness of the  past century, associated with society consumerism and advertising.

It is a psychological disorder that affects women more than men, arising between the ages of 14-18.

One  girl’s blog is titled: “Food is like art, it exists only to look at.”

But what makes a person stop eating food to  the point of putting their life in danger?

Each case is unique and it’s difficult to find the source of what triggers  this psychological disorder.

Generally, it affects vulnerable people with difficulties in  improving their lives, interacting with family, friends or the community and so they turn to food, fighting ‘its effects (its cravings)’, which gives  them a sense of control.

Individual factors also play a role, such as bodily changes during puberty which force us to pay attention to our own body and compare it with the ideal aesthetic body model shown in the media.

Social stereotypes make those who don’t fit into these parameters have a lower self esteem.

However, these stereotypes do vary according to culture. For example, in India where there is a shortage of food, obesity is a sign of social prestige and economical power.

On the other hand, the admiration of thinness is present is societies where food is easily accessible.

In anorexic patients, food becomes an obsession, a challenge. “Chew ice, don’t eat after 6pm, wash your teeth with bicarbonate, fast for 28 days and the body will lose muscle- you won’t have to worry about exercising again…” … Daily life revolves around obsessive rules which are shared on the internet, like in a blog which claims: “No pain, no gain.”

The severity of this illness is such that it is necessary to detect it early, as it is estimated that after diagnosis some 25% of patients remain anorexic, 40% have symptoms of depression and 25% obsessive.

On the other hand, and this is the most worrying part, fatalities are between 8-10%, but when the illness lasts more than 30 years this figure rises to 18%.

Experts claim that after suffering the illness for 12 years, it’s virtually impossible to cure it.

The signs

There are several. One of them is to start, follow and maintain a diet. In fact, the early signs are changes towards a restrictive diet: eliminating the consumption of carbohydrates, using laxatives and diuretics.

On the other hand there can be signs of hyperactivity, where one obsessively does physical exercise, such as walking, standing or abdominal exercises.

On a social level, there are also certain behaviour patterns that are observed, since the feeling of being different and the need to hide the problem causes the person to have unstable social and sexual relations.

Anorexia sufferers are usually aware of their thinness and that they would be more attractive. or sexually attractive if they weighed more, however, they want to feel even thinner and as a result, lose more weight. In fact, when they look in the mirror they see themselves as obese.

On the other hand are affective disorders which frequently are linked to depression, insomnia and constant crying.

Overcoming it is not easy, but having professional help is a step forward, along with help that starts at home and in the environment of friends and colleagues

Thus, once a family member or a friend/colleague recognise that a person has an eating disorder, it is necessary to act quickly, to communicate with them and  have them be placed in the care of a professional immediately.

It must be a priority is to stop this life threatening psychological condition, and the story of British girl Kate Chilver can be used as proof of this.

The young girl died last December after 30 years of suffering. Her case was described by doctors as “the worst ever seen”, as parts of her intestines and stomach were paralyzed by lack of blood.

The illness does not receive the attention it needs, perhaps because some  relate it merely to being associated with to esthetical ‘requirements’, . However, it is an illness that gradually and slowly deteriorates the body, brain and vital functions.

If granted the recognition it deserves, it would reduce campaigns which promote slim figures, where models are increasingly becoming more skinny and looking more unrecognisable from normal male and female bodies.

Therefore, it is necessary for the government to take more action against what is communicated to society as healthy, for example by regulating the size of models who fill magazines and televisions, and stopping those who display an ‘ideal’ model as someone who is actually malnourished, whether or not they are well dressed.

(Translated by Emma O’Toole)

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