I visited India once with a humanitarian group called Harvest India. They are based in the city of Tenali in Southern India. With this group I met orphans, former prostitutes, lepers and AIDS patients. The women and men I met had been through more pain and terror than I could ever imagine (and I’ve been through a hellish eating disorder.) I wondered how they dealt with their pain? I thought back to my own pain that I managed with an eating disorder. I never woke up and decided, “Today I’m going to have an eating disorder.” It kind of just happened. I wondered if anyone in India experienced the same thing? I started to ask around. I spoke to some locals and found that some of the women who were rescued from prostitution were known to self mutilate and harm themselves. I also found some teenage boys who told me that girls in high school do diet and purge. And being “thin” is sought more so than being larger.
On one hand I knew that the genetic element of eating disorders would not leave the culture untouched. On the other hand I was still quite surprised. The media in India still greatly favors voluptuous women. Curves are celebrated and seen as a sign of good health and wealth. Bollywood actress Anushka Shetty is one of the celebrated curvaceous goddesses of India.
But psychiatrists in urban areas of India are reporting cases of anorexia nervosa. Most people in India have still not heard of the condition but Delhi psychiatrist Sanjay Chugh says he has seen an explosion in anorexia cases over the past few years. Some do believe that the influence of western films and television in affluent areas has given today's Indian teenagers the idea that thin is beautiful. If women do succumb to pressure to be ultra thin and develop anorexia, says Dr Chugh, the public has little sympathy.
He says everyone is aware that hundreds of millions of people do not get enough food every day.
"For them, a person who's starving herself to death must be stupid," he says.
But shame and ridicule will not make this disease disappear.
What it may stop is people reaching out for treatment.
Thankfully India is developing places for those suffering from eating disorders to go. The very first addiction rehabilitation clinic is called, Caim India and located in Bangalore.
Please share the information you learned today about eating disorders in India with others. Knowledge is the biggest tool we can use to prevent and stop eating disorders from spreading.