Anorexia - more than a strive for perfection. Stories of two women from Armenia
Eating disorders in Armenia
In Armenia, in recent years, the number of people who turn to psychiatrists and psychotherapists with complaints about eating disorders, has increased. Anorexia and bulimia are on the list of the most common disorders. These are serious mental illnesses that cannot be resolved without the help of medical proffessionals.
Anorexia is a disorder in which a person refuses to eat or takes in small amounts of food for fear of gaining weight.
Bulimia is a disorder in which a person overeats and then tries to get rid of the food by artificially inducing vomiting or using laxatives.
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Victory: a story with a happy ending
“As far back as I can remember, I had problems with being overweight. If in childhood this did not bother me much, then, as I grew up, it became not only the cause of health problems, but also low self-esteem and depression.
At the age of 27, I decided to get down to business seriously. I lost 40 kilograms in a year. Just imagine what feelings arise when you realize that you have won this battle – with your habits, body”, says Ani, for whom the last 10 years have turned into a daily struggle with excess weight.
She says that she did not go to a nutritionist and tried different diets, including complex and dangerous ones:
“The most dangerous trap is the one that you think at first: I’ll lose 10-15 kilograms and that’s enough. Then you realize that there will never be enough, it turns into an obsession, into a way of life, into constant worries that an extra piece of chocolate will return all the lost kilograms.
I got to the point that I weighed myself twice a day. If the scales showed that I had gained 100-200 grams, it seemed to me that I was doing everything wrong. Then I realized that my happiness directly depends on the numbers on the scales. And I didn’t want to live like that anymore”.
For almost five years now, Ani has been seeing a psychologist. She says that even now there are difficult times when depression forces her to eat more than she wanted, when for days she is afraid to approach the scales, but the main difficulties have already been overcome:
“When people ask me how I lost weight, I answer – by reading. I read a lot of special literature and understood that this is a serious psychological problem. But at the same time I realized that my whole life revolves around the desire to be perfect.
I don’t know what would have happened to me if I had not found a good specialist who helped me overcome this obsession. Now, too, there are difficult days, but we have reached the point that I weigh myself once a week, fluctuations in weight within one or two kilograms no longer become proof of defeat, and hunger is not my constant companion.
I do sports, I try to adhere to a healthy lifestyle, and not go on diets. But the biggest achievement is that I no longer want to be perfect, I want to be healthy, happy and able to accept change”.
What doctors say
Experts explain that eating disorders are mental disorders that manifest as unusual, abnormal changes in eating habits and directly affect mental and physical health.
People with such problems often experience anxiety and depression.
The causes of the eating disorder are still unclear, but both biological factors and the atmosphere in society, where many idealize thinness, play a role in their formation. According to psychiatrists, such problems are also common among those who have been sexually abused.
Doctors say that while eating disorder is dangerous, it can still be treated and controlled.
“Perfection is a myth”
Psychologist and psychotherapist Tatev Khachatryan works with people with various eating disorders almost every day. More often, anorexia and bulimia are found in children and adolescents – at an age when ideas about their own body take on a clearer outline.
“Eating disorders generally start with the idea of perfection, where a person creates a stereotype of the ideal body they wants to achieve. Each time, getting on the scales or looking in the mirror, a person sees a deviation from the ideal image that they created and have an anxiety attack.
Frequent manifestations of anxiety or prolonged anxiety lead to depression, which, in turn, leads to certain somatic and physical problems. In the case of anorexia, refusal to eat leads to problems of the reproductive system, as well as to oppression of the center responsible for the feeling of satiety and hunger, food intake”, explains the psychologist.
If earlier, similar phenomena were observed in women, now, according to Tatev Khachatryan, it is also becoming common among men, who also become victims of stereotypes about beauty:
“Not that this is a new problem in our country. They just talk more about it now. People started thinking more about mental health. But it cannot be said that everyone who has encountered eating disorders turns to psychologists or appropriate specialists.
They turn to us when their symptoms are already unbearable. Often, competent nutritionists send their patients to psychologists and psychiatrists when they realise that the situation is already out of control”.
According to the psychologist, the patient’s environment, participation of their family and timely contacting a specialist are very important in solving these problems. Especially with anorexia and bulimia, people often hide the problem, even from their loved ones:
“The cause of these disorders can be dysmorphophobia – anxiety over one’s appearance, a constant search for flaws. If you notice that in your environment someone often looks in the mirror or complains about their appearance, does not sleep or categorically refuses to eat, you should immediately contact a specialist”.
The psychologist says: you need to remember that perfection is a relative phenomenon, each person is unique and ideal in their own way.
Defeat: a story with a tragic ending
“Mom never cooked anything. I don’t remember her standing at the stove. At home, we only ate when my father was cooking, on other days – in cafes or in fast food establishments. The house never ran out of batteries for the scales and cigarettes. They were the most important things to my mother. And five years ago my mother died”, Narine says.
She cannot understand why the fate of her mother developed this way, because she was always attractive and slender, why did the desire to be even more attractive ruin her life? Over the years, she stubbornly lost weight. At the same time, according to her daughter, her character changed, she behaved strangely, refused to eat, did not sleep, and daily disputes and scandals, in the end, led to a divorce.
“I moved to live with my father, not because I wanted to, but at the request of my mother. Of course, I visited her every week. She didn’t eat anything at all, just drank coffee and smoked.
Once, when I tried to force her to eat, my mother fought me about it. The neighbors were already tired of all this and called the ambulance. Mom was prescribed inpatient treatment in a psychiatric hospital, but she returned 24 days later – and everything started all over again”, Narine says.
Her mother died at 54, and, according to doctors, almost all of her organs had failed.
“When my mother passed away, she weighed only 34 kilograms. I blamed myself for not doing enough for her, not forcing her to eat, not taking her to the doctor, but then we knew nothing about eating disorders. Maybe if 10-15 years ago we went to the doctor, my mother would still be alive”, Narine says.