Disability and Eating Disorders

| | posted on:Multiple Disability

Some one has rightly said, “There’s often a vicious circle. The more a person focuses on his body, the worse he tends to feel about how he looks – obsession breeds discontent.”

We all human beings are fallible to the lure of “perfect bodies” as idealized by our society. We tend to make comparisons with these “unattainable and desirable bodies”

Media and advertising agencies through their seductive and alluring messages act as a conduit for spreading such beliefs. All this sets the standards for physical attractiveness. Our mind gets conditioned by the established social norms. The continuous “bad body talks” like “I am fat”, “I hate my flabby thighs”, “I am obese so nobody likes me” etc, reinforces an unending focus on comparisons and appearances. And people are dragged down into the whirlpool of negativity, especially those, who have physical disabilities.

Some one has rightly said, “There’s often a vicious circle. The more a person focuses on his body, the worse he tends to feel about how he looks – obsession breeds discontent.”Deformities, amputations, awkward gate, and stuttering speech….these all might bring varied reactions of the people, since such bodies are not considered as “norm”. Consequently fear and shame creep into the personalities of the persons with disabilities. They rarely get positive feedback about their bodies and appearances. The caregivers and attendants might keep on reminding them of their body shapes, sizes and weights through their adverse comments, though many times unintentional.

The probability of developing eating disorders in the persons with physical challenges thus gets exponentially high. Physical weakness might also accompany body disconnection and a sense of shame for it.

For example wheelchair users or those who have to be lifted by the care givers or those who walk with the help of crutches might want to become lighter and easier to be lifted. So in that attempt they might develop Anorexia Nervosa.

Anorexia Nervosa is kind of syndrome or disorder in which an individual tries to have low weight. The person develops a “fear of fatness” and there is an unending pursuit of thinness. In this disorder the weight is maintained 15% below the body mass index (BMI). (BMI is calculated as weight in kilograms divided by height in metres squared).

The regimen of weight loss is carried on by avoiding food almost to the level of starvation, excessive exercising and self induced purging by using laxatives and vomiting the food out. So when there is significant disturbance of body esteem, individuals may find it a way to have control over their bodies by losing weight. Complexes due to the physical handicap can lead to poor self esteem and depression. So weight loss in that scenario can be taken as a positive achievement by the individual. It can provide a kind of reinforcement. But the person doesn’t realize that the consequences of poor nutrition can be disastrous. The disorder can lead to endocrine disorders which can affect fertility in women and sexual drive of men. Anorexia can lead to suppression of reproductive hormones. At the young age growth can be stunted. Starvation can cause musculo-skeletal weakness and loss of muscle mass which can prove ruinous for those with already less muscle power. Quality of life, which already has been affected by disability, can further get deteriorated due to distress and emotional disturbances. There can be mood swings. One might stop leisure time activities. Educational goals might be interrupted and a persone can absolutely lose personal autonomy.

Another eating disorder known as Bulimia Nervosa can also develop in the people with disabilities. It is characterized by binge or excessive eating and purging out, both occurring alternatively. There is self induced vomiting and excessive exercises along with the misuse of laxatives. All this also leads to adverse physical consequences. Bulimia can cause personality problems in an individual. One may develop avoidant behaviour.

Disability often leads to a sense of isolation. Persons with disability might feel lonely and could develop a feeling that nobody understands them. They might regard themselves unworthy and inferior. There is a hidden need to be loved, needed and accepted. Binge eating or dieting can give them a sense of euphoria after having an extreme control over their bodies which, otherwise, are regarded as “different” and so, unaccepted.

In the society which gives so much importance to material success, people with disabilities lack appearance and achievement oriented qualities. They are not up to the mark with the “cultural ideal”. Thus they try to get themselves noticed. They struggle to get a self image by controlling their weights, but in a wrong way, all the more increasing their problems and agonies.

Treatment of such eating disorders first of all requires a clear cut shift in the attitude of how the disability is viewed. One of the steps is to reduce the sense of shame as far as body image is concerned. Friends and families need to avoid commenting on the difficulties involved in lifting them from wheelchair, or on their little movements.

Persons with disabilities need to understand that apart from physical appearances your emotional appearances also do matter a lot. The way you talk, the kind of words you use, also have the ability to attract others. Though emotional appearance is not easily visible, but it can still be exhibited to those who listen. Don’t just think of appearance, just focus on how you can influence! Don’t degrade yourself…Don’t weigh your self esteem…Love yourself and the real you!!!

Abha Khetarpal

thanks : crossthehurdles

One thought on “Disability and Eating Disorders”

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