Of Size Zero and Eating Disorders

Size zero is the latest fad in town. With celebrities like Kareena Kapoor, Nicole Richie, Posh Spice and the likes flaunting their size zero figures being idolized, the bandwagon doesn’t wants to be left behind. Off late, the term ‘size zero’ is being used to refer to anything extremely thin and small. Size zero is a women’s clothing size in the US size system, which would fit a petite woman with a really tiny waist.  Typically size zero clothing is created to fit women with measurements from 30-22-32 to 33-25-35 inches (chest-stomach and hips).

More often than not, movies and soaps portray thin women as go-getters, successful and popular while the heavier or over-weight ones are portrayed as gluttons and are the butt of jokes.  With pencil-thin models and actresses ruling the industry, from endorsing consumer goods to dancing to item numbers in movies, the media is indirectly propagating the emaciated and starved look among women.

In a quest for size zero figures; many innocent young girls are falling prey to eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia. It is totally absurd to represent ‘fat’ with ‘eating’. With hundreds of misconceptions doing the rounds and lack of proper guidance with respect to healthy food and exercise habits, eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia are on the rise among women. According to the American Psychiatric Association, over one half to one percent of women suffer from anorexia. It is estimated that over two percent of women in the age group of 15-30 have bulimia and the number of cases is increasing.

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder wherein people starve themselves to maintain a minimal body weight. Anorexics, though underweight, suffer from a constant fear of gaining weight and consider themselves to be overweight. Their objective of thinness is achieved from excessive starvation. Anorexia is often characterized by excessive weight loss, obsession with food and calories, emotional and irritable behavior, loss of menstrual periods. Irregular heartbeat, shrunken bones and mineral loss from the body, osteoporosis etc, are other medical conditions resulting from anorexia. Anorexic women often face complications during pregnancy and might undergo miscarriages.

Bulimia nervosa is a psychological disorder characterized by excessive eating and followed by self-induced vomiting or purging using laxatives. There is no scientifically known cause of bulimia, but researchers worldwide believe that it stems from dissatisfaction with one’s body’s shape and size and from a fear of becoming fat. Bulimic women seem to be completely normal, although the eating and vomiting is done in secret. The cycle of binging and purging becomes an obsession and is repeated very frequently. Frequent vomiting can lead to ruptures in stomach and esophagus, dental cavities, swelling and soreness in the salivary glands. Bulimia also leads to excessive dehydration and electrolyte imbalance in the body.

Several deaths have been reported due to these eating disorders. Christy Henrich, a world class American gymnast, in an effort to lose weight progressed to unhealthy eating habits and was eventually diagnosed with anorexia. She died from multiple organ failure on her 22nd birthday. Uruguayan Model Luisel Ramos died in the August of 2006, at an age of 22, due to heart failure after fasting for days. Ana Carolina Reston, a Brazilian model is another victim of anorexic death in the November of 2006 and at a ripe age of 21, after attempting to survive for months on apples and tomatoes. Though fewer deaths have been attributed to bulimia, it can be as dangerous as anorexia. Sarah Siskin, a nineteen year old American, died in 2003 after a seven year battle with bulimia. That which started out as a high school experiment to manage weight by vomiting, ended as a slow suicide for the cheerful and smart girl on the honor roll. Eating disorders are without borders. They are not just limited to the western countries and an increased incidence, though in a milder form, is manifest in the Asian countries.

Anorexia and bulimia can be overcome, with proper counsel and medical guidance. Eating disorders have more to do with the mind than the body of the individual. It is up to the family members and friends to recognize the characteristics of these disorders and seek medical and psychiatric help in time. Researchers have reported the efficiency of cognitive behavioral therapy, interpersonal psychotherapy with and without the use of anti-depressants to be of help. However, continued monitoring and nutritional counseling is crucial.

As responsible adults, we should be aware of the unsolicited comments made regarding the appearances of young boys and girls. They should be taught to accept and respect their body and personality. No two individuals can be similar and our uniqueness should be celebrated.

Arpita Soma

[Image courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/s4n7y/3063941395/]