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Hunger Games

A response to "Bridal Hunger Games" in April 15th New York Times.

On Sunday April 15th, The New York Times ran an article titled “Bridal Hunger Games.” The article discusses some drastic approaches to weight loss including use of nasogastric feeding tubes (NG tubes), injections of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), and extreme calorie restriction. These techniques are not only extreme but also outright dangerous. Nasogastric feeding tubes are generally reserved as a treatment for seriously ill patients who cannot tolerate food orally. It carries a risk of infection, damage to tissue in the nose, throat, and esophagus, pulmonary aspiration, and collapsed lung. The full risks of HCG are not yet known but it has been linked to blood clots, constipation, headaches, leg cramps, hair thinning, and breast tenderness. There has been one reported case of a person developing a pulmonary embolism (a potentally fatal condition) while on HCG. Extreme calorie restriction (the article mentioned diets ranging from 500-800 calories per day) may lead to numerous health complications including gallstones, kidney stones, dehydration, headaches, irregular heartbeat, and electrolyte imbalance (which can affect the functioning of muscles and nerves in your body).   

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“I don’t want to tell a bride that she shouldn’t look good for the wedding,” says Dr. Louis Aronne, a prominent weight loss specialist in NYC and director of the Comprehensive Weight Control Program at NY-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. Dr. Oliver R. Di Pietro, a doctor in Florida who uses NG tubes as a weight loss method for his patients stated: “At first I decided not to do it for people who just want to lose a few pounds, but then I thought, why should I say 5 or 10 pounds are not enough? People want to be perfect.” These quotes demonstrate the normative expectation that brides should lose weight in preparation for their weddings. This attitude is prevalent both in the article and in our society. A study by Cornell University cited in the article found that 70% of engaged women wanted to lose weight, on average 20 pounds.

I would like to pose these questions: why do healthy women (many of whom are not overweight) feel compelled to contort their bodies using methods that could jeopardize their physical health? Why do women desire to present themselves as other than what they usually are for a memorable occasion? And why is this considered normative? I believe that if we can open a conversation about these questions we will find ourselves in a discourse about the forces in our society that so often lead women to feel “not good enough” as we are. The weight loss measures outlined in this article are a disturbing reflection of our culture’s unattainable standards of beauty for women and highlight the profitable nature of the industries that exploit this illusory ideal.   

 

Alexis Conason, Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist in practice in New York City and a researcher at the New York Obesity Nutrition Research Center at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital.

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