National Eating Disorders Awareness Week: Disordered eating habits affect 50% or more of college students

National Eating Disorders Awareness Week: Disordered eating habits affect 50% or more of college students

As seen in Tulane Hulaballoo, 3/2/2012

The above photo, from the New York Times: “Isabelle Caro, a French model and actress who became the international face of anorexia when she allowed her ravaged body to be photographed nude for an Italian advertising campaign to raise awareness about the disease, died on Nov. 17. She was 28.”

Feb. 26 to March 3 marks National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. More than 10 million men and women in the United States have battled eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, and millions more suffer from binge eating disorder. The peak onset of eating disorders occurs during puberty and the late teen and early adult years. Eating disorders, however, are now being documented in children as young as kindergarten as well as older adults. This week serves as an opportunity to raise awareness for these potentially life threatening disorders, and reduce the stigma over receiving treatment.

Eating disorders are troublingly common in the college population, with disordered eating habits affecting 50 percent or more of college students. Furthermore, evidence has shown that up to one in three dieters progress to some form of disordered eating. “Disordered eating” includes a wide-range of abnormal eating behaviors, including several of the behaviors seen in anorexia or bulimia. Though disordered eating itself may not meet all the criteria for the full-blown disease state of anorexia or bulimia, disordered eating can certainly lead to these serious medical conditions. It can also have general negative effects on a person’s overall emotional, social and physical health.

The differentiations of the three main eating disorders can be confusing. Anorexia Nervosa is characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss by extreme restriction of caloric intake. Anorexics don’t allow themselves to maintain a minimally normal body weight for their height (BMI < 18.5), have an intense fear of weight gain and feel “fat” despite dramatic weight loss. Female anorexics often stop having a menstrual cycle.

Bulimia Nervosa is characterized by a cycle of binge eating followed by purging, often through self-induced vomiting, laxative or diuretic use, excessive exercise or fasting. Binge eating is defined as eating large amounts of food in short periods, often beyond the point of comfortable fullness. Symptoms include repeated episodes of binging and purging, feeling out of control during a binge, frequent dieting and an excessive concern with body weight and shape. Bulimics are often a normal body weight.

Binge eating disorder is characterized as uncontrolled, impulsive or continuous eating beyond the point of fullness. Unlike bulimia, there is no purging after binging. Binge-eaters, however, may go on repetitive and sporadic fasts or diets and often have feelings of shame or self-hatred following a binge. Their body weight can range anywhere from normal to morbidly obese.

Contrary to many perceptions, eating disorders are not “female” diseases. In fact, a 2007 Harvard study on eating disorders indicated that more men suffer from eating disorders than previously thought and is on the rise. In this study, men represented 25 percent of those suffering from anorexia or bulimia and 40 percent of those suffering from binge eating disorder.

Though the symptoms of eating disorders are similar in male and females, the mentality behind the disordered eating behaviors differ. Women often develop eating disorders from an obsession with “thinness,” while men are in pursuit of the “six-pack abs” and ripped muscles.

Eating disorders in men are often complicated by stigma. Men often refuse or hesitate to seek help for eating disorders because of the perception that eating disorders are feminine, though thankfully, this general perception is changing. Eating disorders often go unrecognized by parents, coaches or friends and even by the man himself because of the unawareness of the prevalence and symptoms of eating disorders in men.

Eating disorders are life threatening and require treatment. People with disordered eating habits are encouraged to seek treatment because many of these behaviors have the serious potential to progress to an eating disorder. Treatment can include therapy, nutritional counseling, medication and in severe cases, hospitalization. The Tulane Student Health Center offers dieticians and counselors who specialize in eating disorder treatment.

Tags Posted under Featured by

One Response