The dangers of a size zero fixation

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Poonam is a pretty teenager who weighs 38 kilos. She is more bones than flesh, has dark circles under her eyes, hollowed cheeks and pale skin. Yet, when she looks herself in the mirror she feels she is “fat”, and needs to shed a few more kilos to land a role in Bollywood.

Like most teens today, Poonam is obsessed with looking thinner and eating less than the average five-year-old.

In recent times, “size zero” has become a fashion statement, with women of all ages and sizes flocking weight loss and slimming clinics to attain their goal weight. What few see is there could actually be a serious psychological disturbance attributing to this thought process in many women.

So can this obsession be linked to anorexia? Anorexia, medically termed anorexia nervosa, is a complex psychological disorder that goes beyond size zero fixation. One may assume that anorexics are giddy-headed, weight obsessed women who take size consciousness to another extreme. But anorexia is, in fact, a deadly breakdown of logical thinking finally leading to physical collapse.

Psychiatrists describe anorexia as more of a disturbance in the psyche rather than a physical problem. More than lack of appetite, it’s the internal conflict of a disturbed and distorted body image which starts at a much earlier age and later manifests in starving the body.

When Poonam got selected for a major role in a Bollywood movie, her hidden body fixation gave way to full blown anorexia. She began subsisting on soups and fruits, working out at the gym for three hours a day, and consulting various slimming clinics for treatments she did not really need. She says she did all this because she couldn’t bear anyone commenting on her looks.

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Other reasons for anorexia
According to Dr Parul Tank, consulting psychiatrist at Godrej and Wockhardt hospitals, “Anorexic girls usually have personality problems and face tremendous pressure from their family environments too.”

Experts say anorexics typically come from dominating and controlling families, mostly with overbearing mothers. But it is hard to tell whether the mothers develop such a nature as a response to the self-starvation of their daughters.

Anorexia usually starts off with the desire to look super slim, and the tremendous pressure among young girls to fit into their peer group obsessed with looks and glamor.

Also, once an anorexic moves into this cycle, it’s easy to maintain it. They will either eat less or purge all of which they eat from their body forcibly. The various slimming options easily available in the market make losing weight much easier too.

How do you know it is anorexia?
The family needs to watch out for signs such as obsession with weight despite being ideal or even underweight, lack of appetite and constantly berating oneself, all of which signal anorexia.

Seek help from a psychiatrist. He or she could help by putting the anorexic on medication to cope with anxiety and improve appetite.

Poonam was lucky. She was given help at the right time. Most anorexic girls are not. They live under the illusion that what they are doing to their bodies is good since it’s being endorsed by the current size zero fad.

As Dr Tank concludes “I wouldn’t say all girls dieting and striving towards size zero will develop anorexia but yes, it is a good excuse and could make the fad dieter prone to the disease.”

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