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by Dayna Kalakau, staff writer

Turn on the television and click to any channel. Open a magazine and flip to any advertisement. Pictures of rail-thin models can be found everywhere reinforcing the image that thin is in, and causing many American adolescents to re-evaluate themselves to become more critical of how they look.
An estimated 5 to 10 million American females and about one million American males suffer from eating disorders, according to the Renfrew Center for Eating Disorders, the nation’s first facility exclusively dedicated to helping those with eating disorders. Moreover, nearly 25 percent of college women manage their weight by bingeing and purging. Often, unless those college students seek help—which is rare—symptoms go unnoticed, and affect every aspect of the student’s life.

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that is characterized by excessive weight loss and self-starvation. It is recognized as the third most common mental illness among adolescents, and it has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness—12 times higher than the death rate of any other affliction for young, college-age females. People who suffer from anorexia often have intense feelings about—and sometimes fear of—being overweight, and exhibit extreme concern with their body image. It is common to hear an anorexic say, excessively, that he or she is “fat.” Anorexics will purposely skip meals, make excuses for not eating, and deny their hunger just to stay thin. This preoccupation with weight, calories, and dieting causes them to develop rituals, such as excessive chewing or rearranging the food on a plate to mask their disorder.

If left untreated, anorexia can wreak havoc on the body depriving it of essential valuable nutrients. Anorexic people will commonly suffer from chronic dry skin, hair loss, and muscle weakness. Heart failure due to the lowering of blood pressure, and kidney disease caused by severe dehydration, are more of the serious threats of an anorexic lifestyle.

Bulimia nervosa, another eating disorder, involves excessive bingeing and purging and afflicts 1 to 4 percent of college-age women. Bulimics do not completely starve their bodies like anorexics. Instead, they will consume massive quantities of food, or binge, and then secretly purge their bodies of the food by vomiting, using laxatives, doing excessive exercise or starving themselves for several days. This is a constant cycle for people who suffer from bulimia, and they will sometimes develop and maintain complex schedules that allow them to binge and purge when necessary.

Excessive bingeing and purging will devastate the body, the digestive system most specifically. Bulimia can lead to an electrolyte imbalance, which is a cause of heart failure, and can cause inflammation and possible rupture of the esophagus and intestines. Often bulimics will suffer from tooth decay because of the stomach acid that is discharged during vomiting, and they will also develop peptic ulcers and pancreatitis.

According to the National Eating Disorders Association Web site, young people develop eating disorders as a means of dealing with conflict, either internal or external. Obsession with weight and body image becomes a way for those afflicted to gain or maintain control in their lives. This makes college students particularly vulnerable to developing eating disorders as college, and the transition to college from high school, is often a time filled with stress, anxiety, and bewilderment. Couple undue amounts of stress with the pressure from peers and society to be thin—which is undoubtedly the accepted social definition of what is attractive—and it is no surprise that the number of people in America living with eating disorders, around two million, is triple the number of the 664,921 people living with AIDS.

If not treated in the early stages of development, eating disorders can be life-threatening and deadly. While early diagnosis is the key to a smoother recovery, intervention at any stage—preferably a professional—is still better than allowing the disorder to fester and cause more harm. CampusBlues.com, an informational Web site for college students, encourages students dealing with eating disorders to seek the help of a licensed professional, such as a psychologist, a psychiatrist, a social worker, a nutritionist, or a medical doctor. Such professionals are not only able to monitor and track a patient’s habits, but they are able to help a patient learn how to eat healthy and deal with the underlying issues that caused the disorder.

Students who suspect that their friends are suffering from eating disorders should be caring, but firm when talking about the situation. Remind them that they are not alone. Get educated and learn the facts before approaching a friend, but most importantly, be honest; a non-judgmental approach may yield better results.

For more information about eating disorders, visit The Renfrew Center Foundation at renfrew.org, The National Eating Disorders Association at nationaleatingdisorders.com and CampusBlues.com.

How to recognize an eating disorder?

• Anorexia nervosa is characterized by excessive weight loss and self-starvation. Anorexics will purposely skip meals, make excuses for not eating, and deny their hunger just to stay thin.

• Bulimia nervosa is characterized by excessive bingeing and purging. Bulimics consume massive quantities of food and then purge the food by vomiting, using laxatives, doing excessive exercise, or starving themselves for several days.




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