Ekaterina Tikhoniouk explores the causes of eating disorders and their effects on body and mind
Throughout the ages, many women have wanted to have the ‘Perfect Body’. Every era has had its own idea of what the perfect female proportions are. The people of ancient Rome favoured thin, almost child-like women and Victorians idolized the small waist.
On the other hand age-old cultures such as the ancient Greeks and Indians preferred bigger women; even in caveman days, a curvy figure was seen as a symbol of fertility. Another famous example was the ideals of painter Peter Paul Rubens. His paintings were filled with massive buxom ladies, believed to be the epitome of beauty in Renaissance Italy.
Unfortunately our society is at the other end of the scale. The end of the last century saw an increasing obsession with slender, wraith-like models, whose skeletal figures have dominated the catwalks and billboards for the past three decades. They continue to do so, although the tide is slowly turning with a growing emphasis on a healthier, curvier figure.
The past few years have seen a great backlash against size zero. One of the most memorable motions was the ban of all underweight girls from the catwalk of Milan Fashion Week in 2007, after the deaths of two models from undernourishment.
Despite many such developments, eating disorders are still very common. Statistics say that one in five women have, or have had, an eating disorder, and that four per cent of men are affected, although many cases continue to go unreported.
Disproportionate dieting can be a serious health hazard, and in some instances can even cause death. In spite of this, the media surrounding famous actresses and celebrities has taught us that slenderness is beautiful, and that becoming thin is all that matters – health is not a concern. Instead of wanting to maintain a healthy lifestyle, the emphasis is on the amount of weight lost.
Before starting a diet, you should stop and think about the toll that such crash-courses can have on your body and general wellbeing. When they embark on yet another ‘miracle’ diet, most people do not realise the tremendous physical and emotional damage that self-starvation inflicts, so they continue to diet, fast, and over-exercise.
Excessive cases such as anorexia have dire physical effects. When the body doesn’t have enough nutrition, it goes into starvation mode. It slows down to conserve energy and basically begins to consume itself. As the self-starvation continues, the medical complications pile up. The immune system is battered, constant fatigue manifests, and the hair begins to thin, as the body isn’t even getting enough nutrients to sustain proper hair growth. Sufferers also report being constantly cold, as the body has too little fat left to keep itself warm. Severe side effects range from stunted growth, to damage to vital organs, to sometimes death.
Most people never reach that extreme of food-depravation, instead indulging in yo-yo dieting or skipping meals in an effort to slim down. Many are sucked into fad diet plans that promise instant results with little physical effort required. But these plans also have a taxing effect on our bodies, often causing weakness, headaches and insomnia.
After repeated dieting attempts, the body starts to compensate by lowering its calorie usage, so in order to keep losing weight you must ingest fewer and fewer calories. Even skipping meals if you are lazy, or in a hurry, can be damaging. Constantly missing mealtimes means you are more likely to feel a lack of energy during the day and experience inability to concentrate for long periods of time.
On top of all this, eating disorders have very unfortunate psychological effects on a person’s wellbeing, described by some as an unbreakable downwards spiral. Effects begin with feelings of low self-worth and inadequacy, which get worse as the disorder progresses. No matter how much weight is lost, it simply isn’t enough. The more you diet, the more you become obsessed with food, checking the back of every packet to see how many calories you are eating. You develop the habit of comparing yourself to other people, a frame of mind in which self-esteem is based on how much you weigh and how thin you are.
Most common is the misguided belief that losing weight will bring happiness and popularity, and it is reported that many diet in an attempt to feel good about themselves. But no amount of dieting can repair the negative self-image at the centre of this problem. For others, self-starvation is a way of regaining control over some aspect of their lives. Controlling what they eat alleviates their feelings of powerlessness, but this boost is very short-lived. In the long run, eating disorders only lead to emotional pain, isolation and depression.
It is obvious that the adverse effects of these fads far outweigh the so-called ‘benefits’ of an overly skinny body, so we must start a trend towards valuing a healthy lifestyle and eliminate the idea that you have to be a walking coat-rack to be beautiful.