It can be easy to fall jealous of the incredibly thin runner that passes you on the Bay Run; of their flat stomach and toned legs. But assumptions can be dangerous. Sometimes you see the same person again the next week, running even harder, looking even thinner. Over time, you catch a glimpse of a protruding bone, or notice their sunken eyes. Their running, you realise, could be an act of desperation. Like I said, assumptions can be dangerous. Anorexia nervosa is a serious and complicated condition, and one that can’t be diagnosed based on physical appearance alone.
Despite the seriousness of this condition and its prevalence in our community, there are gyms and training centres that persist in promoting restrictive dieting and excessive exercise, both of which have been pinpointed as contributing factors to the onset of anorexia nervosa. Once this condition takes hold, it seems even if a recovery is made, an eating disorder never entirely disappears. Food is always a challenge that has to be dealt with and managed. The enjoyment of eating takes a long time to return.
It is not only teenagers, but people of all ages, that are affected in their plight to to achieve a culturally constructed ideal. I commonly hear middle aged women throw around the phrase “diet challenge”. They are repeating a term which is ironically ubiquitous in so called health centres, where the staff try to turn restrictive eating and fasting into a fun thing – a game, of sorts. Here you are rewarded for reaching a goal within a certain number of weeks – perhaps a 10kg loss needs to be reached in 10 weeks. A woman told me she was 2kg off her goal weight with only two days to go, so she literally starved for two days to make the challenge successful.
A victim of this illness will often define their self-worth by the way they think they look; a distorted measure that traps them in a vicious cycle of demand and disappointment. They say the camera adds five kilos, but in the eyes of someone suffering anorexia nervosa, the mirror can reportedly add three times that weight to their shrinking torso.
Next time you are watching joggers pound pavement on the Bay, don’t blame the girl looking skinny. Blame industries that profit off their self-doubt, and a society that can encourage it.