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
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