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Dying to be Thin (Health)

Dying to be Thin (Health)
Eating disorders are one of the unspoken secrets of many families. Although they are rarely talked about, millions of people are afflicted with eating disorders every year, the majority of them being adolescent girls and young women.
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  • Eating disorders are one of the unspoken secrets of many families. Although they are rarely talked about, millions of people are afflicted with eating disorders every year, the majority of them being adolescent girls and young women.

  • An eating disorder is not a sign that the person has a problem with food, but rather a symptom of deep-rooted underlying problems in the individual’s life. Appearance and figure have become very important in the minds of young people. Thin is in, fat is out. A weight craze has swept through Asia, sending women of all ages – and even some men – flocking to gymnasiums and slimming salons. Liposuction surgeons, diet pills, cellulite creams and weight-loss teas, all claim to melt away the pounds. A 19 year old girl was quoted as saying “Boys don’t like plump girls”. Only 5 feet tall and 90 pounds, she went on to say, “So I go without food and my friends just live on milk and juice diets.”

  • Words such as anorexia and bulimia remain strange and foreign in our culture. Indeed, eating disorders are generally termed as “white girl’s diseases”, especially with the likes of Princess Diana and Jane Fonda. It is a myth that eating disorders are only prevalent among white teenagers, and do not effect minority communities because we are protected by an appreciation for larger bodies, stable families and social structures.

  • Such factors don’t apply anymore; a virtual tsunami of eating disorders has swamped the Asian countries. Eating disorders have been most rampant in South Korea and China, countries that have been undergoing swift economic change and rapid conversion to the MTV culture. In a study preformed in 1993, 1,044 Hong Kong-born bilingual university students were asked to complete the English version of EAT (Eating Attitudes Test). The results indicated that young Chinese women were almost as preoccupied with their weight as white women, with 36% reporting that they wished to lose weight. And in Japan, it is estimated that as many as 1 out of 500 women display extreme dieting behavior, reminiscent of anorexia.

  • Anorexics or Bulimics often lack a sense of identity, and try to hide behind a socially approved and admired exterior. They are often found asking themselves the age-old existential question, “Who am I?” and frequently concluding that “I am, and am trying to be thin, therefore I matter”.

  • Eating Disorders in Pakistan

  • Pakistan is no exception when it comes to eating disorders. Studies reveal high occurrences of eating disorders in Pakistan. Although anorexia and bulimia are a growing problem in Pakistan, very little research is being done on the subject. Mozamila Mughal, a Nutritionist at the Agha Khan Hospital, said that this illness is most common among young girls between 16 and 22 years of age, generally from the higher income bracket. “Families don’t worry about the person until they start losing a lot of weight and energy.”

  • Dr A.Wahab, prominent psychiatrist at the Agha Khan Hospital, said that one of the main factors that contributes to eating disorders in Pakistani society, is our parenting style. When a child is born, it is the mother who usually inculcates this belief that a boy is supposed to be strong and masculine, whereas a girl should be pretty and delicate.

  • Causes of Eating Disorders

  • There are many theories regarding the causes of this illness, and no one simple answer that covers everyone. Individuals with this illness use it as a means to handle stress and problems, or to obtain control over some aspect of their lives.

  • Some or all of the following factors could work together to produce starving, over eating and purging.

  • Biological Factors: Some personality types are more prone to eating disorders than others. New research suggests that genetic factors can play a role in anxiety, perfectionism, and obsessive-compulsive thoughts and behaviours among individuals.

  • Studies indicate that for some (not all), hereditary is an important cause in the development of obesity and binge eating. Under eating and over-eating can trigger brain chemicals that produce feelings of peace and euphoria temporarily driving away anxiety and depression.

  • It is believed that individuals suffering from eating disorders may be using food as a tool to deal with painful feelings and distressing moods.

  • Psychological Factors: Individuals suffering from this illness tend to be perfectionists and high achievers. They generally have unrealistically high expectations of themselves and others, and despite their many achievements, they still feel inadequate and worthless.

  • Family Factors: Despite having received much publicity in recent years, anorexia and bulimia are still not part of the vocabulary of many Asian families. Many parents who have children exhibiting symptoms of anorexia or bulimia express scepticism about their children’s condition.

  • Some Anorexics and Bulimics have been reported as stating that they feel smothered by their over-protective families, while others feel abandoned, misunderstood and alone.

  • Parents who place too much emphasis on physical appearance and make critical comments (even in jest) about their children’s bodies can contribute to these disorders. This can also be said about emotionally detached mothers and physically or emotionally absent fathers.

  • Patterns are also observed in infancy, often resulting or the use of food as a reward or punishment.

  • Social Factors: From an early age, children link fat with being unintelligent, doing less well at school, being lazy, smelly and less liked by their parents. In contrast, skinny shapes are associated with being successful, attractive and popular. Exposure to images of successful, thin actresses, models and other celebrities from an early age is widely blamed for our growing dissatisfaction with our bodies.

  • Asians living in Asia have to cope with rapid Westerninzation, pressures and stereotypes. In addition to trying to confirm to lingering stereotypes, studies suggest that today’s younger generation of Asians are losing weight in an effort to adapt to Western standards of the slim professional career woman.

  • Anorexia

  • Anorexia was first described in England in the 17th century, although it probably existed long before that. It was identified as an illness by modern medicine just over a hundred years ago by Professor Ernest Lasegue of the University of Paris. In recent years, the condition has been the subject of considerable study.

  • Anorexia is a life-threatening eating disorder. This eating disorder originates from an individuals intense fear of gaining weight. With this distorted body image, anorexics usually lose 15% of their normal body weight and still believe that they are over-weight. Although the term “Anorexia” literally means “loss of appetite” this isn’t a true symptom of the disorder. People with Anorexia are in fact suppressing a constant strong desire to eat, and yet have an overwhelming fear of becoming fat.

  • The most common techniques for achieving weight loss are excessive exercise, intake of laxatives and refusal to eat.

  • Danger Signs

  • • Significant loss of weight

  • • Loss of monthly menstrual period

  • • Preoccupation with food, calories and fat content

  • • Cooking for others

  • • Hair loss

  • • Cold hands and feet

  • • Fainting spells

  • • Heart tremors

  • • Not eating in public places

  • • Brittle skin

  • • Weakness and anxiety

  • Bulimia

  • Bulimia is the most common eating disorder, generally found in women in their twenties and over. Like anorexics, bulimics have a great fear of becoming fat. However, their weight is usually within a healthy limit, and some even might be over-weight.

  • Bulimics will binge by eating an excessive amount of fatty foods (cakes, chocolates etc) at one time. However, they will soon feel guilty and make themselves sick or use laxatives or diuretics (drug used to make a person pass urine more frequently). This then set up a vicious circle, which is hard to break, and takes over their lives.

  • Danger Signs

  • • Eating uncontrollably

  • • Vomiting, abusing laxatives and vomiting blood

  • • Using the bathroom frequently after meals

  • • Preoccupation with weight

  • • Depression or mood swings

  • • Swollen glands in neck and face

  • • Heartburn, bloating, indigestion or constipation

  • • Irregular/termination of monthly periods

  • • Dental problems, sore throat

  • • Weakness, exhaustion

  • • Bloodshot eyes

  • Treatment for Eating Disorders

  • Eating disorders are the most deadly of all mental illness, and among the most difficult to treat. To get a sufferer to admit that have an eating, exercise or body image problem that requires treatment is very difficult. Taking the first step towards seeking help is always filled with fear and anxiety, but also hopes. Eating disorders cannot be fought alone. Professional help is a necessity. This calls for a comprehensive treatment plan, involving nutritionists, pscyotherpists, psychiatrists and psycopharmacologists. This will mean that Asians will have to get over their long-held stigma against psychiatrists.

  • Tips for Parents

  • • Do not urge your child to eat, or watch her eat or discuss food intake or weight with her. Your involvement with her eating is her tool for manipulating parents.

  • • Do not allow yourself to feel guilty. Once you have checked out her physical condition with a doctor and made it possible for her to begin counselling, getting well is her responsibility.

  • • Do not neglect your spouse and other children. Focusing on the sick child can perpetuate her illness and destroy the family.

  • • Do not be afraid to have the child separated from you, either at school or in separate housing, if it becomes obvious that her continued presence is undermining the emotional health of the family. Don't allow her to intimidate the family with threats of suicide. But don't ignore the threats, either.

  • • Do not put the child down by comparing her to her more "successful" siblings or friends. Do not ask questions like "How are you feeling?" or "How is your social life?"

  • • Love your child as you love yourself.

  • • Trust you child to find her own values, ideals and standards, rather than insisting on yours.

  • • Do everything to encourage initiative, independence and autonomy in your child.

  • • Be aware of the long-term nature of the illness. Families must face months and sometimes years of treatment and anxiety.

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