She begins to take off her shoes. She looks at her wrists and takes her watch off to make sure it doesn’t add a gram or two. Her whole body shivers as she looks at her slim figure. She slowly lifts one foot and then the other. With her eyes closed, she silently prays.
Rania Mroue, a 38-year-old mother of three, has an anxiety attack every time she stands on the scale to weigh herself. “I was never like this when I was younger, it’s become a sickness I live with now,” Mroue confessed.
Calculations show that, for her height, Mroue has a less-than-average weight. Unfortunately, it’s the paranoia of gaining a few kilos that keeps her uneasy. “Media and society gave us a certain image of how we should look like and we’re all tormented by that image,” Mroue explained.
A 2003 study conducted in a rural community in Lebanon revealed that 30.2 percent of women are obese. Another cross-sectional survey of 2,104 children (3 to 19-year-old) and adults showed that obesity and obesity risk levels are higher, overall, among boys than girls (22.5 versus 16.1 percent risk and 7.5 versus 3.2 percent obesity, respectively).
This finding was associated with lack of exercise among children.
“I can’t walk without thinking that people are looking at me and laughing,” Tamara Tahtah, a 22-year-old student, said. Tahtah has been suffering from obesity since she was 8 years old. She has tried all kinds of diets but nothing seemed to work. “What hurts me the most is that it wouldn’t have mattered this much to society if I was a man,” she sadly explained.
A cross-sectional study of adolescents in private Lebanese schools suggested that overweight and obesity prevalence among girls decreases with age (P < 10).
“You can never be too thin,” a Pretzel Crisps advertisement reads.
Youngsters are exposed to slogans glorifying thinness every day. An overwhelming number of studies reveal that such ads push young men and women toward anorexia and bulimia. “When I ask my patients why they want to be thinner, most of them reply; ‘because I want to look like a model,’” nutritionist Joyce Daher said.
Daher explained that people come to her for the wrong reasons. Very few, indeed, seek more balanced diets for health reasons. “They only care about how they look,” she said.
Daher explained the importance of proper nutrient intake for a longer and healthier life. “What my patients don’t understand is the danger they put their bodies through with all those crazy diets,” Daher said. “There is only one diet, and that is eating small portions of everything.”
“I have put my body through a lot,” Khouloud Shammas, a 33-year-old mother of three, admitted. Shammas has suffered from bulimia and anorexia for the last 10 years. Her house is filled with magazines and pictures of models. “I was never overweight but I became obsessed with my weight after having my first child,” she explained.
Shammas believes that the pressure around her and the comparison she makes with television figures pushed her to seek extreme thinness.
“The moment I woke up in the hospital with my husband and children around me looking worried, I woke up to reality,” she said. “I finally stopped pressuring myself and just stayed healthy, I’m happier than ever now.”
Radwan Kaddouh is a 15-year-old boy who suffers from major obesity. Kaddouh’s parents are no longer concerned about how their child looks.
They worry about their son’s life, which is now in danger. Kaddouh is no longer able to walk, sleep or go to school due to his obesity. His parents believe that their son’s state relates to fast food and lack of exercise. Living in fear, they also blame themselves for not being attentive enough before the problem escalated.
A 2003 study in rural Lebanon demonstrated that higher socioeconomic status is correlated with higher adoption of unhealthy nutritional habits (fast food, energy-dense snacks, sweets, etc.) and lower consumption of traditional healthy Mediterranean food (cereals, vegetables and fruits). These findings are consistent with the general tendency in developing countries, in contrast with first-world nations.
“Some people who have an unhealthy obsession with their weight, may never be satisfied no matter how low the scale seems to register,” psychologist Rouaa Arbid explained. Arbid believes that such people need to undergo a form of therapy in order to understand the positive aspects of having a healthy instead of a “bikini body.”
“If men and women begin to understand this theory from a young age, this obsession will rarely occur,” Arbid said. She thinks that parents should always be careful about the lifestyle of their children. “Parents these days reward their children with fast food instead of a book to read,” she explained.
Mroue still struggles with facing the scale. It’s been five years but she still experiences anxiety attacks before weighing herself. “It’s difficult because I’m supposed to be a role model to my children. How can I be a role model when I fear a two-digit number on a scale?” Mroue asked.
By Reem Swaidan
LAU Tribune staff