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Updated: February 23, 2014 18:20 IST

Tripping over food

Mansi Poddar
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Eating disorders can be cured with professional help. Photo: P.V. Sivakumar
The Hindu Eating disorders can be cured with professional help. Photo: P.V. Sivakumar

Students often contend with looking good, but maintaining healthy eating habits are vital to staying fit.

School and college are two places where appearance and physique become a priority. There is always pressure to look a certain way, and for many of us, it feels like a beauty pageant day after day. Sometimes the pressure can trigger stress, and we manipulate, control and force our bodies towards size zero or into a tube dress or denims.

It was in class 12 when I discovered eating disorders. I used to share tiffin with a beautiful girl, who was intelligent and popular. We shared meals, happily chatting and eating. Suddenly one day Danny announced she was going on a diet. I would have her tiffin while she munched on something called water biscuits or funny smelling seeds called flax. As the days went by, I noticed Danny becoming pale, skinny and losing her focus. I thought her laughter sounded a bit fake and shrill. I confronted her on this and asked her why she had stopped eating. Danny got defensive and said I should mind my own business and she didn’t want to be fat like me. Soon she began to avoid me, sleeping off in class or disappearing during lunch break. I let it go.

In a few months we heard that Danny had been hospitalised. I went to visit her and found out she was suffering from severe malnutrition. She looked haggard and exhausted, not like the fresh 18-year old she was once. She dropped out from school and began her journey towards healing. Today Danny is a healthy woman who looks good and has a great relationship with food.

Types of eating disorders

Eating disorders take many forms. Here are a few.

Anorexia

Individuals suffering from anorexia nervosa become terrified of gaining any weight. Food and weight become obsessions. For some, the compulsiveness shows up as strange eating rituals or the reluctance to eat in front of others. Some even prepare lavish meals for friends and family but refuse to eat. This is sustained dieting which includes extreme measures to lose weight like pills, laxatives excessive exercise and rigid portion control.

Bulimia

Ingesting food and then purging in order to lose weight. Bulimia is an extremely serious eating disorder which if left untreated can severely harm the quality of life and result in the following conditions:

Tooth decay caused by the acids from vomiting, dehydration, esophagus inflammation or tears, low body temperature, long-term bowel problems, swollen salivary glands, and increased suicide risk

Binge eating disorder

We all know the feeling of overeating. Having to change into loose pajamas or nodding off for a long afternoon nap. But binge eating is different from normal appetite increases or overeating on festivals. People with a binge eating problem eat unusually large amounts of food on a regular basis. They often eat quickly, do other things while they eat (like watching TV or doing homework), and don’t stop when they’re full.

Chew and Spit

A person chews food to taste it and then spits it out. This is the least common of all disorders but can lead to severe malnutrition and psychological problems.

If you or anyone else has a troubled relationship with your food or body, seek professional help. Eating disorders can kill and lead to long-term health problems, often accompanied by depression, OCD, anxiety and post-traumatic stress. Eating disorders can be cured and a psychologist will help you maintain your ideal body shape while having a healthy relationship with food.

The writer is a psychotherapist.

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