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Dumping the Scales: Rising from the Shadows of Eating Disorders

In India, the instant you speak to someone about your mental distress, let alone mental illness, you are often turned to temples and religious institutions rather than experienced mental health experts. This belief constituting the inability of young adults and even adults today, to find a secure cathartic outlet to confide their mental illnesses to anyone has been massively increasing, which also baselessly constructs the stigma of individuals towards mental health.

Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia are often trending on social media but there are several individuals who still require psychoeducation focusing on the missing information rather than blindly believing the misinformation fed by the media. The clinical definition of Anorexia is ‘An eating disorder characterized by markedly reduced appetite or total aversion to food’. This occurs when the person has an unnecessary fear of gaining any weight and resorts to starving themselves to lose weight. Bulimia or Bulimia Nervosa is defined as ‘An eating disorder characterized by episodes of secretive binge-eating followed by inappropriate methods of weight control, such as self-induced vomiting, abuse of laxatives and diuretics, or excessive exercise’. There are adolescents who have made it a habit to vomit every morning as soon as they wake up and are now unknowingly continuing the habit with no explanation of their actions.

These two major eating disorders that affect, not only the physical health of individuals but also mental health. An initiative willingness to talk about sensitive issues like this and trying to take necessary steps in overcoming has evidently been quite a difficult task as individuals with eating disorders never confide in their loved ones. This implies the importance of a support system for individuals with anorexia or bulimia, that can, however, become fatal over time.

The Indian society has always had unrealistic European standards of beauty for both, men, and women. Although teenagers and young adults are always exposed to the internet, they are exposed to seeing perfectly photoshopped skin and zero figure bodies promoted by their favourite celebrities. The process of identity formation among adolescents and children are immensely influenced to look more like their favourite celebrity, resulting in appearance ideals through imitation. They also resort to starving themselves or working out excessively. This, in turn, results in becoming an unhealthy obsession causing them to acquire eating disorders without comprehending its consequences.

This, however, is an extremely sensitive and difficult topic to talk about in an Indian household as food is said to supposedly “glue families together”. Food is a celebration, a sacred tradition, a metaphor of togetherness, a metaphor of happiness and unity, but battling an eating disorder can be complex and bewildering in such situations. Addressing these concerns and educating the people around oneself, could be the first major step that could be taken to help them comprehend the gravity of the problem.

It is also understandable that individuals who go through a tough time and would rather keep it to themselves because they fear their safety in the Indian society; but India has always managed to make people feel alienated throughout their lives as long as individuals choose to not live the ‘stereotypical Indian life’.

Eating disorders, like any other mental illness, has an outstretched process of healing. It takes quite a protracted time for an individual to alter their unsafe eating habits and become healthy again. This also implies to mental health. Recommendations for mandatory therapy or psychiatric medications also deteriorate extreme and life-threatening conditions and enhances a step towards a healthier lifestyle.

There have been multiple campaigns worldwide protesting and speaking up about different body image concerns in the past few years. We can see several celebrities embracing their flaws and their own selves, promoting positive body image. Teenagers and young adults can finally see someone like them on screen and social media, although that sight is still rare. But seeing someone on International Television who has dark circles, no thigh gap, embraces their stretch marks and has plenty of body hair allows viewers to relate and embrace and be empowered about their bodies. Most movements have extensively aided to promote a person’s mental health.

India is still comprehending, acknowledging, and compassionately considering the needs of their youth. Never in a million years did any of us think that mental health awareness, body positivity, LGBTQIA+ activism etc. would come so far in this country. Although we believe we are not where we are supposed to be, there is still hope. But if the past two years have taught all of us something, then it is to keep working towards the cause you believe in because no matter what, the hard work pays off and you will get your result that makes a happier and safer tomorrow!

To begin with a psycho-educative approach, here is a video that will help you understand eating disorders:

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