Many people decide to go on a weight loss diet. There is a large number of diets available to anyone, whether through the Internet, social networks, health centers, etc.
In addition, these diets are of all kinds: to lose weight, to gain muscle, to define oneself, to reduce sugar levels…
But what happens when an obsession with low-calorie diets appears? We can then be faced with a case of permarexia . What does this disorder consist of? What are its symptoms, causes and treatments? We will answer all these questions in the following article.
Permarexia: what is it?
We have mentioned the fact of making a certain diet… A priori, making a diet should not be something dangerous or pathological, but… what happens when the fact of making certain diets becomes the central axis of our life and our main concern is to lose weight and control everything we ingest? That then we no longer speak of a more or less healthy habit, but of a psychological disorder called permarexia.
Thus, permarexia is an eating behavior disorder, characterized mainly by an obsession with weight loss diets and compulsive calorie counting. Permarexia is classified as an “eating disorder not otherwise specified” in diagnostic reference manuals (such as DSM-5).
Thus, the diets followed by a person with permarexia are low-calorie diets , that is, low in calories, in order to lose weight constantly. The patient compensates for this unhealthy fear of gaining weight with the practice of this type of diet, which he follows to the letter and in an obsessive manner.
The monitoring of these diets is added to a constant scrutiny of the labels of the products you are going to ingest, for that great fear of gaining an extra calorie, which you want to avoid at all costs.
Permarexia is actually a disorder that may be the prelude to other, more serious eating disorders (ED), such as bulimia or anorexia nervosa . To these last two disorders, other serious behaviours can be added, such as: intense physical exercise, compensatory behaviours (use of laxatives, self-induced vomiting…), etc.
There are key symptoms to detecting permarexia, so experts talk about some of them, and they say that when a person changes his diet more than three times in a period of two to four months, coupled with a constant concern about weighing himself and writing down the results, and an obsession with counting the calories of what he buys and eats, that person is at risk for permarexia.
But let’s look at the most typical symptoms of permarexia in a little more detail:
1. Obsession with ingested calories
People with permarexia are obsessed with the calories they take in. This means that the patient compulsively counts how many calories he or she is taking in with each food or product , and of what type. To do this, it is not that he looks at the labels, but that he directly scrutinizes them and analyzes them in detail.
2. Miracle Diet Tracking
Another symptom of people suffering from permarexia is constant monitoring of miracle diets for weight loss.
3. Deprivation of certain types of food
By constantly monitoring their diets, people suffering from permarexia are deprived of certain foods necessary for the proper functioning of the body in all respects. These foods may contain essential vitamins or proteins that are being lost with this type of hypocaloric diet , which affects their health very negatively.
4. Influence of weight on self-esteem and mood
Another major symptom of permarexia is the fact that people who suffer from it have both their mood and their self-esteem subordinated to their weight and physical appearance. That is, they “measure” their well-being, happiness and self-esteem through how much they weigh and what their body shape looks like .
This, of course, on a psychological level is very harmful for the person, since he is feeding on external things to value something purely internal.
5. Swings in body weight
Another symptom of permarexia is the appearance of oscillations in body weight. Thus, even if people try by all means to follow the strict diets they are submitted to, they suffer variations in their weight, which affects them very negatively in their health on a mental and physical level, because if they have gained a few “extra” kilos they feel very bad.
6. Consumption of slimming products
In addition to following low-calorie diets, in order to lose weight and always stay thin, people with permarexia also consume products of different types to achieve their goal: slimming products, vitamins, diuretics…
Like most psychological disorders, permarexia also often has a multifactorial cause. That is, several factors influence its appearance . Some of the most frequent (which, in turn, shape the features of a person suffering from permarexia) are
1. Low self-esteem
Low self-esteem is at the root of many eating disorders. In turn, low self-esteem can be caused by many other factors.
People with permarexia, as we have seen, tend to value themselves according to how much they weigh and how their body is physically, which ends up undermining even more their self-esteem, turning this situation into a vicious circle .
2. Body dissatisfaction
Another cause of permarexia is dissatisfaction with one’s body. This, in turn, may be influenced by the stereotype of beauty in society today , which rewards thinness -in many cases extreme-, added to a generalized obsession with the cult of the body and its exhibition, etc.
3. Emotional instability
The profile of a person with permarexia often consists of an emotionally unstable person, who needs to “control” that instability through actions such as: following a highly strict diet, analyzing the calories consumed, etc. Emotional instability is also often translated as “neuroticism” .
4. Obsessive traits
Obsessive traits are also one of the causes of people with permarexia (we insist, always added to other causes). In other words, the typical profile of these people is that of people who are also obsessive, who need to control many aspects of their lives to feel “at peace” .
5. Great importance given to the opinion of others
Finally, another of the causes of permarexia is the fact of giving excessive importance to the opinions of others when evaluating oneself.
This is directly related to the low self-esteem already mentioned. Thus, these are often insecure people, who constantly “need” to please, as well as the approval of others.
The treatment indicated to treat permarexia must logically be assessed and adapted to each particular case. On a psychological level, irrational thoughts associated with the body and the importance of being thin should be worked on .
Thus, one of the objectives will be to increase the patient’s self-esteem, as well as to analyze their coping strategies when solving problems. Once the strategies have been analysed, work will be done so that the patient acquires healthier and more adaptive coping strategies.
On the other hand, it will also be essential to work on his obsessive features and, in short, the whole more emotional sphere that is influencing the maintenance of the disorder.
For all this, we can opt for a cognitive-behavioral therapy, as it is one of the most effective when working on coping strategies, irrational thoughts, healthy habits, etc. However, we can also resort to other orientations, such as systemic therapy.
Finally, it should be noted that the psychological treatment should always be carried out with the support of a medical specialist in nutrition who will help to regulate and adapt the dietary guidelines and diets that the patient is following.
- American Psychiatric Association (APA) (2014). DSM-5. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. Madrid: Panamericana.
- Belloch, A., Sandón, B. and Ramos, F. (2010). Manual of Psychopathology. Volume I and II. Madrid: McGraw-Hill.
- Sabater, M.I. (2018). Influence of social networks on eating disorders: A review of the literature. Escoles Universitàries Gimbernat.