01 October 2012

Dangerously thin: how models torture themselves

A Russian model has revealed the extremes models will go to in order to maintain their skeletal looks. All these behaviours are examples of eating disorders, warns DietDoc.


A Russian model has revealed the extremes models will go to, in order to maintain their skeletal looks. All these behaviours are examples of eating disorders, warns DietDoc.

The shocking revelations of a top fashion model on the eve of the New York Fashion Week have renewed the focus on the dark side of the fashion industry. In an interview with Fox News, Russian model Kira Dikhtyar revealed a whole range of self-inflicted tortures that fashion models use maintain their skeletal looks. 

These aberrant behaviours include:

  • Cigarette smoking and even drugs (speed and cocaine) are used to suppress the appetite. The harm that can come from the use of such addictive and lethal compounds, is beyond imagination.
  • Brutal use of the harshest laxatives available and daily colonic irrigation which totally destroy the normal function of the digestive tract and remove all the beneficial microorganisms from the gut causing unimaginable harm.
  • Popping every imaginable diet pill including prescription and over-the-counter pills.
  • Using injections of hormones such as HCG (human chorionic gonadotrophin) and thyroid hormone, to ‘speed up metabolism and suppress appetite’, but which can ruin the entire endocrine system. Health authorities have warned that these injections should not be used for weight loss, because they cause such serious side-effects including gallstones, stroke and blood clots.
  • Eating balls of cottonwool to fill their stomaches. That anyone should have to resort to this kind of mediaeval torture to stay thin because some fashion mogul who is laughing all the way to the bank decrees that models should not look like women, but clothes horses, defies all logic.

(Sowray, 2012)

All these behaviours are examples of eating disorders that are created by the demands of a greedy, exploitive industry. We can only hope that engineers will soon come up with a humanoid robot or an avatar, that will be able to replace fashion models to spare our young women from these desperate acts.

Other factors that promote eating disorders

According to a Position Paper published by the American Dietetic Association (ADA) in 2011 (Ozier & Henry, 2011), the following risk factors are associated with eating disorders:

  • Gender, women are 3 times more prone to developing eating disorders, than men.
  • Ethnicity - traditionally black populations did not suffer from eating disorders to the same extent as whites, but with westernisation and urbanisation this trend is shifting in countries such as South Africa
  • Early childhood eating and digestive problems. Children who learn at an early age that not eating elicits a great deal of attention, may use eating disorders to continue to gain attention in later life.
  • Abnormal concerns about weight and shape, which are usually totally unfounded. The above mentioned models are an example of unfounded concern with shape because even when they are practically dying of starvation, they still believe that they are ‘too fat’ or have ‘a big stomach’.
  • Negative self-image - many people who suffer from eating disorders regard themselves as ugly, totally unworthy, and not deserving of love, respect or acceptance by their fellow human beings, particularly their significant others, families and peers.
  • Early traumas such as sexual abuse during childhood and adolescence can trigger eating disorders.
  • Pressurisation to be thin - the above mentioned models are good examples of women who are so threatened by the need to be as skinny as possible (to show off the clothes without leaving an impression of themselves), that they will sacrifice their health, their future, and sometimes even their sanity and their lives on the altar of thinness.

(Ozier & Henry, 2011)

Incidence of eating disorders

According to the ADA Position Paper on eating disorders, the life-time prevalence rates for anorexia nervosa are 0.3% in men and 0.9% in women; bulimia nervosa is found in 0.5% of men and 1.5% of women, while binge eating disorder occurs in 2% of men and 3.5% of women  (Ozier & Henry, 2011).

The lowest BMI (Body Mass Index) was associated with anorexia nervosa, while the opposite was true for binge eating disorder. As regards the age at which such eating disorders are more common, anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are most common during the teenage years, whereas binge eating disorder also occurs well into adulthood. Ozier and Henry (2011), mention that eating disorders among middle-aged women are also on the rise.

The emergence of a new type of eating disorder called "orthorexia nervosa" which has already been included in the 4th Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, involves an unhealthy fixation about eating so-called "healthful foods" (at the expense of eating a normal balanced diet), which can lead to severe starvation or deficiency diseases.

The ADA emphasises that doctors and dieticians throughout the world need to keep in mind that it is vital that eating disorders should be identified as early as possible. Changes in eating patterns and distorted body image, are signals that a patient is on the way to developing an eating disorder.

Associated illnesses

Many patients with eating disorders tend to develop other psychiatric disorders, including depression, anxiety, body dysmorphic disorder (a psychiatric illness where the patient is obsessed with his/her physical appearance), and chemical dependency. Personality disorders such as borderline personality disorder are common among eating disorder patients. These comorbidities emphasise that the treatment of eating disorders should always be a team effort and that such teams should include a dietician, a psychiatrist and/or psychologist, and a medical doctor who has experience in treating eating disorders (Ozier & Henry, 2011).


The most positive results are so far being achieved with cognitive behavioural therapy which helps patients to correct faulty beliefs and thought patterns. For example, teaching recovering eating disorder patients to distinguish when an expanded stomach is due to bloating because of a buildup of wind and not because of sudden abdominal fat deposits. This can be particularly critical when an eating disorder patient starts eating again. The patient may develop a distended abdomen due to a buildup of wind, but in most cases such a patient reacts with fear and loathing that he/she has ‘become fat again’(Ozier & Henry, 2011).

From a pharmacological point of view, the ADA states that no medications have as yet been approved by the FDA for the specific treatment of anorexia nervosa. In general, patients with an eating disorder are treated with medications to reduce anxiety or improve depression. Because starvation causes a “hyposerotonergic state” the use of serotonin reuptake inhibitors can help patients during the maintenance phase of treatment, but not to regain weight (Ozier & Henry, 2011).

Vulnerable populations 

The following groups are particularly vulnerable to eating disorders:

  • Adolescents, especially girls
  • Athletes who restricts food intake to achieve lower body weight to increase their performance (e.g. runners, wrestlers, dancers, gymnasts, etc).
  • Fashion models and individuals working as entertainers or in the public eye.

If you suspect that you have developed an eating disorder, then please go for help as soon as possible before your health and mental well-being have been destroyed for life. The same applies if you are worried that a member of your family or one of your friends has succumbed to these dread disorders. Try to persuade them to go for help to a dietician, a psychologist or a medical doctor, or to contact one of the eating disorder clinics in South Africa (Google "Eating disorder clinics in South Africa" to find a variety of such facilities near you).

 - (Dr IV van Heerden, DietDoc, October 2012)                        

(References: Ozier AD, Henry B W (2011). Position of the American Dietetic Association: Nutrition Intervention in the Treatment of Eating Disorders. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, Vol 111:1236-1241.;  Sowray B (2012). Faministas never fade away. The Telegraph. Published in Lifestyle Magazine, Sunday Times, 23 September 2012, p.10)

(Photo of thin model from Shutterstock)

Any questions? Ask DietDoc

Read more:

Eating disorders
Vogue bans skinny models
Food: your friend or foe?
Eating disorders: 9 recovery tips    


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