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Losing health for size zero

india Updated: Jul 06, 2009 02:07 IST
Neha Bhayana
Neha Bhayana
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

Twenty-year-old Niti Patel (name changed) usually sticks to salads and low calorie foods. But every two or three days she loses control.

She locks herself up in her room and binges on chocolates, brownies, cheese and biscuits till her stomach starts aching.

Then, she rushes to her bathroom, shoves the end of her toothbrush down her throat and vomits all the food out to ensure that she doesn’t gain weight. Sometimes, these binge-purge sessions happen three times a day.

Patel is suffering from bulimia nervosa, a psychological eating disorder. She weighs 60 kg, which is normal for her 5 ft 6 inch frame, but is bent on becoming skinny.

“I have been going to a counsellor for a year now. I maintain a healthy routine for a few days after a counselling session but then I start binging again,” said Patel. “I feel that I am bloating from all sides and I just have to throw up.”

Patel is not the only one.

The size zero obsession and the fear of being called ‘fat’, an increasing number of young girls — and boys — are developing eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia.

“I used to see only three new cases of anorexia or bulimia every month till two years ago. Now I get at least eight to nine cases a month,” said Dr Seema Hingorrany, a psychologist.

Psychiatrist Dr Anjali Chhabria has witnessed a 100 per cent rise in patients with eating disorders.

She now counsels at least 10 new “victims” every month.

Worse still, the disorders are not only affecting 20-somethings, teenagers and adolescents but also children.

“I have seen an eight-year-old girl who had stopped eating because she hated her baby fat,” said Dr Chhabria.

Doctors blame peer pressure and the stick-thin models and Bollywood actresses for making young people obsess about their bodies.

Eating disorder sufferers starve themselves, induce vomiting or overdose on laxatives to shed weight.

The result: weakness, blackouts, inability to concentrate, hair loss, and in some cases even hallucinations.

Lack of nutrition also messes up the menstrual cycle. Patel, for example, missed her period for four months.

Chandrayee Sen (22) had become so thin by living on papaya and bhel that even sitting on the classroom bench became painful.

“My tail bone used to hit the bench and hurt me,” said Sen, who had wanted to fit into a “sexy halter-necked blouse” for her sister’s wedding.

Mental health experts are also getting many cases of orthorexia, a new kind of eating disorder characterised by an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating.

Dr Kersi Chavda, head of the Bombay Psychiatric Society, said a lot of young mothers suffer from the disorder.

“A man approached me recently because his wife had threatened to slit her wrists if their children went for a birthday party where they would eat cake,” he said.