Everyone today seems concerned about weight, and because most people diet at least once in a while, it is hard to tell what is normal behaviour and what is a problem that may escalate to threaten life and happiness. One may choose to call oneself a ‘health freak’ but in reality could actually be suffering from eating disorder such as Anorexia Nervosa! 

In addition, the early stages of an eating disorder can be difficult to define. When does normative dieting become a health and emotional problem? When does weight loss cross the line and become pathological? Answering these questions is hard, especially when the person has not yet lost enough weight to qualify for a clinical diagnosis. If warning signs and symptoms of an eating disorder are allowed to persist until they become entrenched behaviours, the person may struggle for years 
before s/he can turn matters around.

Anorexia nervosa is the relentless pursuit of thinness and the signs and 
symptoms to identify anorexia nervosa are listed below: 

1. Person refuses 
to maintain normal body weight for age and height. 
2. Weighs 85% or less 
than what is expected for age and height. 
3. In women, menstrual periods 
stop. In men levels of sex hormones fall. 
4. Young girls do not begin 
to menstruate at the appropriate age 
5. Person denies the dangers of low 
6. Is terrified of gaining weight even though s/he is markedly 

In addition to the above, anorexia nervosa often includes depression, irritability, withdrawal, and peculiar behaviours such as compulsive rituals, strange eating habits, and division of foods into "good/safe" and "bad/dangerous" categories.

Media is one important dimension of the illness anorexia nervosa . Most people in urban areas are flooded by media words and images. We watch hours of TV every day, we read magazines and go to movies. Unconsciously we human being tend to believe that happy, successful people (who are almost always portrayed by actors and models) are young, toned, and thin. In contrast, evil, stupid, or buffoonish people are portrayed by actors who are older, frumpier, unkempt, perhaps physically challenged, and/or fatter. The differences between media images of happy, successful men and women are interesting. 

The women, with few exceptions, are young and thin. Thin is desirable. The men are young or older, but the heroes and good guys are strong and powerful, physically, and economically. For men in the media, thin is not desirable. Thin men are seen as skinny, and skinny men are often depicted as sick, 
weak, frail, or deviant.

These differences are reflected in male and female approaches to self-help. When a man wants to improve himself, he often begins to lift weights to become bigger, stronger, and more powerful. When a woman want to improve herself, she usually begins with a diet, which if continued will leave her 
smaller and weaker.

On a positive note, eating disorders are treatable, and people do recover from them, though recovery is a difficult process that can take several months or even years. Many factors contribute to the development of an eating disorder, and since every person's situation is different, the "best treatment" must be custom tailored for each individual. The process begins with evaluation 
by a physician or counsellor who help to resolve medical and psychological issues that contribute to, or result from, disordered eating. In general, the more components included in the treatment plan, the faster the person makes progress. A few components in the treatment plan includes:

* Medication to relieve depression and anxiety,

* Individual counselling to develop healthy ways of taking control, 

* Group counselling to learn how to manage relationships effectively,

* Family counselling to change old patterns and create healthier new ones, 

* Nutrition counselling to debunk food myths and design healthy meals, 

* And last but not the least Support groups to break down isolation and alienation

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, find help. One can easily locate psychiatrists, therapists or nutritionists who would help any one who wants to recover. Education about eating disorders and stress management classes are two key elements in reversing the rising trend of eating disorders on college campuses and would be a step towards prevention! 

- Arpita Jindani

Aprita Jindani is a student of Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

Any comments or questions regarding this essay can be addressed to: Arpita Jindani

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