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Eating Disorders: One in Four Female Students in the UAE is Affected


In the close-knit education community, it appears that fashion, beauty, and music trends are not the only ones to spread among students like wildfire—attitudes toward food also catch on fast. Considering that the UAE’s citizens are the fifth most obese in the world, it may come as a surprise that the Thomas, Khan, & Abdulrahman (Thomas et. Al) study conducted in 2010 on females attending Zayed University in Dubai concluded that 24% of the 228 females were found to have disordered eating attitudes and a possible eating disorder. Around 74.8% were dissatisfied with their current body image.

Speaking with Dr. Thoraiya Kanafani (clinical psychologist and director of Clinical Services at the Human Relations Institute and Clinics), we found out that according to a survey carried out at Al Ain University (2012), 1.8% of 900 schoolgirls between the ages of 13-19 suffered from anorexia. Meanwhile, the American Center for Psychiatry and Neurology of Abu Dhabi’s statistics show that two new patients (on average) are admitted per week for eating disorders. Read on to discover the truth about eating disorders, how to detect them, and how they can be overcome.

Elizabeth Whiston-Dew: What is anorexia?

Dr. Thoraiya Kanafani: Anorexia nervosa is a type of eating disorder that involves the restriction of food intake, leading to less than 85 percent of body weight in the context of age, sex, developmental trajectory, and physical health. It involves an intense fear of gaining weight or of becoming fat.

There are two types of anorexia nervosa: the restricting type and binge-eating/purging type. With the restricting type of anorexia, an individual primarily achieves weight loss through dieting, fasting, and/or excessive exercise. With the binge-eating/purging type, the individual engages in recurrent episodes of binge eating or purging behavior. Binge eating is characterized as eating, in a discrete period of time, an amount of food that is significantly larger than what most people would eat and a feeling of lack of control over eating during that episode.

What is bulimia?

Bulimia nervosa is a type of eating disorder that involves the recurrent episodes of binge eating. Bulimia also involves recurrent inappropriate compensatory behaviors in order to prevent weight gain. These compensatory behaviors can be self-induced vomiting, misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or other medications, fasting, or excessive exercise.

What role does social media and the current obsession with selfies play in the start of unhealthy eating habits?

Not every person who takes a selfie is obsessed with themselves; however, there’s a trend of taking multiple pictures over and over again until the best one is found, which can have links to issues such as low self-esteem, disordered eating, obsession with body image, and body dysmorphic disorder. Taking an obsessive amount of selfies until the “right” one is found can be detrimental to a person’s mental health, but it’s not the only factor considering that familial, biological, social, and cultural factors also play a part in the development of eating disorders.

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