While maintaining a slim body, especially in the beauty industry, has generally been termed healthy and acceptable, many models and aspiring models have taken the body-goal too far by starving themselves and depriving their body of essential nutrients; a growing psychiatric condition known as Anorexia nervosa. Martins Ifijeh writes on how this can be prevented and managed
For a booming and lucrative career, many models or aspiring models have had to do bizarre things to keep the dream alive. For some, engaging in surgical conditions to either reduce or increase some body parts is the key. Others have had to deny themselves of having babies for fear of losing the body goal they have built over time.
But there are some who have taken the dream from bizarre to the ridiculous. They deny themselves of eating and the intake of essential nutrients. To them, the more you starve and get slimmer, the more you look sexy and beautiful.
Unfortunately, this desire by models, socialites, dancers, journalists and other category of persons constantly in the public glare (including older women) to look like the super models they see on television and magazines, gradually makes them acquire a psychiatric disorder, that has to do with lack of food intake at the expense of their health and physiologic look.
This growing medical condition in developed and developing countries, including Nigeria, is referred to as Anorexia Nervosa. Overtime, these girls and women become slimmer as though they are sick, with majority losing their once beautiful faces, flesh and figures.
Reports from Glamour Magazine suggest that the average American female values being slim than acquiring success or love, with majority trying their hands on starvation to achieve this, and then within space of months or years, develop the psychiatric disorder.
In the early 2000s, it was known to be uncommon among non-western population, but recently, it has been a rising condition among young women in Nigeria and Africa at large, who wants to remain slim and trendy or who prefers to major in modeling.
In an interview with THISDAY, a United State based Nigerian Public Health Expert, Edward Okobi said Anorexia nervosa is a psychiatric disorder in which the sufferer develops habit of not eating in order to lose weight whereas in the real sense he or she is already slim.
While emphasising that the condition is more of a woman’s disease than a man’s, he said the disorder can get to the extreme, such that the person even starts taking purgative and then forces herself to vomit all the food eaten because she sees herself as fat.
Okobi, however said that it might not be a common case in Nigeria, but since the country does not have a good data/ information archive, it might be hard to tell its prevalence.
“Also especially due to the fact that most women who may be suffering from it in Nigeria really don’t see it as a big deal, since they may not even tell if they are ill or not, as some of them sees it as just not wanting to eat.”
While emphasising that Anorexia nervosa is curable, he said eating healthy, exercising, avoiding risky behaviours can help anyone in achieving his or her desired body goal.
Real Life Experiences
One prominent model-cum-journalist that has been hit by the model’s disease is the once most beautiful TV presenter in Greece, Nana Karagianni. Till date, she is still very famous as a Greek Model. She has been suffering from anorexia nervosa for some time now and her condition has put other models and aspiring models on their feet after watching Nana turn into an unrecognisable woman.
Another aspiring model who decided to share her story with the rest of the world is the 21 years old creative writer, Katie Metcalfe. She suffered from Anorexia nervosa because she felt living a perfect life was all about how slim and trendy ones’ body can be.
“My battle with anorexia started when I was 14. My situation at the time was unusual: I was at a Rudolf Steiner school in Botton Village, in a class with several boys. The pressure of being the only girl with hormone-raging teenagers was enormous. I had no self-confidence, and my body became a focus of paranoia.
“Stress in my life multiplied when my parents told me there was trouble in their marriage. In addition, we were about to move out of the house. Nothing in my life seemed to be right. So I started to think that perhaps if I lost some weight and improved my fitness, things would change for the better. I assumed that models and thin people had fantastic lives so I could too.
“I made a new year’s resolution to go on a diet, so I began to restrict my eating. I cut out fats, carbs and dairy, and lived on rice cakes, apples and lettuce. As I began to lose weight, I started to feel that life was worth living. At last, I seemed to be achieving something. A voice began to whisper in my ear to continue, and as I lost more weight, it became louder. Eventually, it was all I could hear. Nothing mattered more than satisfying the voice’s need for weight loss and, ultimately, perfection.
“My weight dropped from 8.5st to under five st. My hair fell out, my skin cracked and bled, my bones ached and my menstrual periods stopped. I was also cycling between 13km and 24km a day to satisfy anorexia’s need for exercise. But I still didn’t believe I was thin enough. When I looked in the mirror, a mound of blubber stared back. My mum took me to the hospital when my periods stopped, but they sent me home with a diet sheet, which said I must try to eat more.
“Eventually, I collapsed and ended up in the hospital after having a minor heart attack while riding my bike. I was kept on a heart monitor for two days. I was sent home with another diet plan with the simple instruction: ‘eat’.”
Metcalfe’s doctor realised she needed help. She was admitted to a psychiatric ward in a hospital in Middlesbrough, where she stayed for the next nine months. Her treatment involved cognitive therapy sessions once a week and she gradually started to eat small amounts of food again.
She said: “My recovery was slow. What really helped to pull me through was writing and the consistent support from my family. I started to write about my experiences and realised that I wanted to recover so I could help others who were battling with the same problem. I gradually got better and went back home the day before my 16th birthday.
“I have had a couple of relapses, but five years on I am fully recovered, with few long-lasting effects. Although, I have been diagnosed with the early stages of osteoporosis, my menstrual periods have come back, so I can have children. I still feel depressed at times, but writing about it helps me get over it. I eat healthily and exercise for pleasure, not punishment.
“My book, A Stranger in the Family, has been published and I am about to start a university degree. A few years ago, I would never have imagined that. If you’re going through what I went through, you must talk about how you are feeling to your parents, friends or doctor, no matter how insignificant you believe your issue might be. It’s vital to express depressive feelings because things only get worse if you bottle them up, and this can lead to major health problems.
“Aim to live every day as though it is your last and not submit to anorexia. Try to defeat anorexia before it defeats you. Always remember that help is out there.”
Low Prevalence in Nigeria
A psychiatrist with Goodnews Neurological Centre, Benin, Dr Amos Ogbejiele, said although the prevalence was low in Nigeria, many young Nigerian women were already reported to have presented classical features of it, with many other young women not accessing healthcare, probably due to lack of awareness.
He said: “Anorexia nervosa often presents an unreal self image that alter how the affected individual evaluates and thinks about their body, food, and eating. Such people view themselves as overweight or “big” even when they are already underweight in the real sense.
“Since it is a psychiatric problem, most sufferers may not accept the fact that they are sick, however, people around them can check for the signs in order to take such persons to the appropriate medical centre for treatment.”
Ogbejiele listed some of the symptoms as “sudden weight loss, enjoying cooking for others, but not eating the food themselves, absence of menses, rapid mood swings and always complaining of being cold.
“Though there are so many other symptoms, but these ones are about the most prominent, so when noticed in a person, the ideal thing is to take them to the hospital so that they can be treated,” he added.
As public health experts continue to enlighten the world about the consequences of being overweight, obese or underweight, the message has always been to remain healthy. No body-goal is worth more than the health of that body.