Emilia is 14 years old and during her quarantine she started with a severe anorexia. What in the eyes of her family seemed an intention to eat “healthier” and break with sedentary lifestyle, led her to compulsive exercise and a strict diet. According to her parents, she quickly went from “normal eating to practically nothing”: she lost 5 kilos in four months. In Bruno’s case, the isolation also brought a red flag: he is 35 years old and described as “slightly overweight.” Last year, you were discharged from treatment for a bulimia who accompanied him for almost a decade and that he had been “doing very well.” But, to the stress of the current context, was added being much more time at home and with full cupboards. “A temptation”, he says, which constantly puts into play his will not to channel his anguish by devouring everything in his path.
“The obsession with being thin has no age, gender or size. The stereotype of the ideal of the perfect body associated with beauty and success runs through us all “, reflects Juana Pouálisis, psychiatrist, Fellow of the Academy of Eating Disorders and president of the Hispanic Chapter of said international organization. In this line, she highlights that today Eating disorders (ED) are far from being limited to adolescents, but have spread to new risk groups: both 8-year-old girls and women over 40 reach the clinics, and the consultations of men of all ages also grew.
In addition, Pouálisis ensures that in quarantine risk factors increased that can trigger these pictures: from emotional stress to interruption of daily activities and overexposure to stereotypes of beauty installed in social networks and media.
According to the preliminary results of a survey carried out by Pouálisis together with the doctor in psychology Valeria Pedrón and other researchers, 70% of people increased their dieting behaviors since the beginning of their quarantine, and 16.6% began to perform physical exercise excessive. The study, which reached 1307 cases (the vast majority, women), indicated that 45.7% of those consulted saw grow your concern for body image and that 56% expressed fear of gaining weight. The average age of the sample was 35 years and included 20% of people who said they had been diagnosed with an ED at some point in their life.
What are the causes behind these disorders? Specialists agree that these are complex diseases, in which a multiplicity of factors intervene, including biological predisposition, emotional vulnerability, and personality characteristics (such as over-demand, impulsivity, or the difficulty of putting words into words. emotions), as well as those of the family and social environment.
The pandemic increased the use of social networks as a form of communication, something that, according to Pouálisis, “increases the risk of eating disorders in those exposed to the ideal of thinness and the culture of diet.” To this, she says, we must add the trends of “memes” that refer to weight gain during confinement, and the greater attention to cooking at home, which, according to the specialist, creates “more pressure and awareness about the food and weight, which can be triggers for these diseases in people most vulnerable to developing them “.
But long before Covid-19 arrived in Argentina, psychiatrists and psychologists had been warning about the expansion of the range of risk groups, among them, women going through menopause and abusing laxatives, diuretics, hyperactivity physical and excessive dieting. Alejandra Freire, nutritionist at the Bariatric Surgery Service of the Hospital de Clínicas and coordinator of the nutrition area at La Casita, explains: “After the age of 40, women begin to experience a lot of body changes that are often not tolerated. In addition, they can have economic access to certain treatments of ‘magic’ and ‘quick’ results that reinforce these behaviors “.
A marked predisposition to be “very aware of the other’s gaze” is, for Alicia Alemán, a psychologist specializing in eating disorders, a characteristic of Argentine society. It emphasizes that “the stereotype of beauty is associated with thinness and 90% of women do not meet these parameters, which becomes especially difficult for teenage girls. “
For this reason, Alemán considers that body acceptance work should be done both on an individual and family level. “There are a lot of messages that parents themselves transmit about their own dissatisfaction with their body images,” he says. Along these lines, Pouálisis adds: “We have to start with ourselves. From thinking about what I’m going to upload to the networks or how I’m going to do it.”
Guillermina Rutsztein, doctor in psychology, professor and researcher at the Faculty of Psychology of the UBA and Fellow of the Academy of Eating Disorders, says that together with the team she directs, they carried out a prevalence study that included 1,200 girls between 13 and 17 years of public and private schools in the city of Buenos Aires and the suburbs. The result was that 10% had some type of eating disorder.
“We work in schools with an integrated eating disorder and obesity prevention program. We talk about the ideal of extreme thinness beauty as a sociocultural construction, breaking down stereotypes and talking about how advertising manipulates images discarding real bodies, diversity of body measurements and messing with perfect bodies that don’t exist, “says Rutsztein. In addition, they explain to girls and boys about the food groups that they should incorporate and “the negative effects of restrictive diets, how it affects their mood and they are binge triggers“.
Movements that seek to break down stereotypes linked to the ideal of the “perfect body” are growing around the world. Melanie Gutzweiler is 25 years old, has a degree in nutrition and a promoter of the international movement in Argentina Health in All Sizes (HAES, for its acronym in English). “The basic premise is that you can, if you want, achieve health in all body sizes,” explains Gutzweiler. And he adds: “He is against diets, what we promote are behaviors that promote well-being regardless of the weight one has, because weight does not define you. The fundamental thing is to accept body diversity.”
Pouisis highlights how more and more influencers They seek to raise awareness about eating disorders through their own experiences, as Oriana Sabatini did weeks ago: “What Oriana did helps to psychoeducate women in the sense of weighing their body from another place, from a more global perspective” , says the psychiatrist.
Although there is a greater awareness of the need to go against stereotypes, for specialists there is a long way to go: “We have to understand that people are a whole, that body image is not a photo but a set that includes the thoughts, feelings and internal sensations about that body. It is key promote greater acceptance of differences: We cannot all be the same and it is good that it should be so “, concludes Alemán.
Where to turn for help
- Durand Hospital: Tel .: 011 4982-5555 / 5655
- Piñero Hospital: Tel .: 011 4631-8100 / 0526
- Borda Hospital: Tel .: 011 4305-6666 / 6485
- Pirovano Hospital: Tel .: 011 4546-4300
- Argerich Hospital: Tel .: 011 4121-0700
- Garrahan Hospital: Tel .: 011 4122-6000
- Gutiérrez Hospital: Tel .: 011 4962-9247
- La Casita: is a care and prevention center for adolescents and young people and their families. To address the problem that may arise, it works emphasizing the resources of the person and their family system, relying mainly on the peer group. Tel .: 011 4787-5432.
- CITPAD: is a medical institution specialized in anorexia, bulimia and depressive disorders. It has a day hospital. Tel .: 011 4863-7640