Insatiable Hunger — Issues of Eating Disorders

We as a society are obsessed with how we look and attach dire importance to our physical appearance than anything else. The external beauty is valued more than what is on the inside. This adds on to the stress faced by the youth who are already under tremendous pressure with issues related to work and love and finding a healthy balance between the two. All these difficulties may bring about eating disorders.

Eating disorders are disorders of eating behaviours, associated thoughts, attitudes and emotions, and their resulting physiological impairments. Eating disorders are a significant burden on patients and their family members and has the highest mortality rate among psychiatric disorders. Eating disorders in India are considered as a ‘rich people problem’. However, it is present in all sections of the society. Main issue is that people do not recognise this disorder as an illness and the need to cure it like any other disease. They do not understand its significance and the impact these eating habits have on their body and health.

Eating disorders are caused by an obsession with food, body weight, and shape. It ranges from undereating to overeating and starving to binging. The technical terms used to describe them are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder. People feel the need to stay thin where they resort to even throwing up whatever they have eaten to avoid gaining weight. Eating disorders are more common in women than men. This illness is rampant in the modelling and film industry, where people feel the need to look thin and fit on the outside. It also adversely affects the health of the adolescents. Eating disorders among women and adolescents are often considered as underrated issues. They make choices under pressure to fit into the society’s ‘messed up’ definition of beauty. Moreover, eating disorders usually go hand in hand with other physiological issues like depression, substance abuse, anxiety and so on.

Eating disorders have an adverse effect on the health of the patient. Anyone affected by Anorexia view themselves as extremely ‘heavy’ and harbour a burning desire to be thin. They achieve this by starving themselves. Anorexia affects blood pressure, weakens the bones and severely affects all the major organs like heart, stomach, kidney and liver. Young people with bulimia nervosa are extremely conscious about their body image and fears gaining weight. They end up eating too much food in a short amount of time and begin to lose control over their eating habits. Feeling disgusted and ashamed after losing control, they try to prevent weight gain by inducing vomiting or using laxatives, diet pills, diuretics, or enemas. After purging the food, they feel relieved. Bulimia affects teeth, stomach and may cause swelling of the oesophagus.

Binge eating on the other hand includes chronic, out-of-control eating of large amount in a short time, even to the point of discomfort. The difference between bulimia and binge eating is that, people do not try to remove the food while they binge eat. They consume huge quantities of food, because of which they tend to become overweight or obese. They also acquire high blood sugar, pressure and cholesterol.

Statistics show us that at least 30 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder in the U.S.At least one person dies every 62 minutes as a direct result from an eating disorder. Studies show that young people aged 15-24 years with anorexia have 10 times the risk of dying compared to their same age peers. They also have the highest mortality rate among other mental illness.  About 25% of the deaths caused because of eating disorders could have been avoided had the illness been diagnosed earlier and treated.

The treatment for any mental illness is grossly neglected in our country. This is because we have a massive population of over 134.25 crore people. People do not even acknowledge the various mental illnesses as there are several people in India who lack access even to basic healthcare. Despite this, it is important that more attention is paid to treating mental illness and disorders. The root cause of these could be underlying emotional imbalance which should be treated with proper guidance and counselling. Lives of these people are completely affected when these disorders take control. An “insatiable hunger” is present inside these people. A hunger to look thinner, to look prettier, to eat to calm themselves, and to ‘eat’ their feelings and problems instead of facing them head on. There is a pit formed inside them which they cannot fill. There needs to be proper awareness made about such eating disorders, and more of the affected people must recognise this and seek help. We as humans should not disregard another’s suffering and must help each other get through the rough patch.

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