It is estimated that 30 million Americans will fight an eating disorder in their lives, and more are starting on college campuses.
Gill Low had a history of depression and self-harm dating back to his early teens, but it was not until he left for college in Wales that he began to suffer bingeing and purging.
By the time he started getting his masters, what had started as an occasional stress reliever turned into a full-fledged eating disorder.
“I did not buy adequate food throughout the year I was there,” he told Healthline. “When I ate, it was junk food from the local store. And I vomited almost every day. ”
This went on for four or five years, decreasing (but not stopping altogether) only when she became pregnant with her child.
Eating disorders on the rise
Low is not alone. According to research compiled by the National Association of Eating Disorders (NEDA), approximately 30 million people will fight an eating disorder at some time in their lives in the United States alone.
After a 2011 study found that eating disorders had increased on college campuses from 7.9 percent to 25 percent for men, and from 23.4 percent to 32.6 percent for women, over a period of 13 years, NEDA launched the Collegial Survey Project to determine how universities could improve addressing this growing problem
Claire Mysko, executive director of NEDA, told Healthline: “College is a period of development in which disordered eating is likely to emerge, which will resurface or worsen for many young men and women.”
He cited the increase in social pressure to make friends, have romantic relationships, achieve academic achievements and the fear of “freshmen” (gain weight), as one of the possible risk factors for disordered eating, as well as other adaptation mechanisms unsuitable for university students. .
For Patty Heard, it began with the relationship drama. “By seeing all the” pretty “girls and going through a really crazy relationship, my first year of college made me feel like I was nothing,” she told Healthline.
It was then that she began to overeat.
“The boy who was watching and who had talked about the marriage came out as gay, and although he was not angry with him, the stress of feeling he was not good enough to love someone was difficult,” he said.
She explained that she would spend days without eating much, and then she would eat and eat until she vomited. “It was a bad time in my life.”
Healthline spoke with Mike Gurr, a licensed professional counselor and executive director of The Meadows Ranch, an eating disorders recovery and treatment center in Wickenburg, Arizona.
He told Healthline that about 40 percent of incoming freshmen will already have some sort of struggle with disordered eating. They may not be full-fledged eating disorders, but to begin with, they enter college with less than healthy relationships with food.
“And when you look only at women who enter the university,” he said. “That number goes up to 80 percent.”
From there, he said that there are some things that contribute to the further development of real eating disorders.
“To begin with, it’s a big change, and people who struggle with eating disorders tend to have these temperaments where they fight against change,” said the student, “for many of these students, it’s the first time they leave home. , a lot of newness, and that’s just a component. ”
He explained that playing the comparison game can also contribute to the development of problems. New students look around, either in the dorms or on their sports teams, and are surrounded by more people than in high school. So there are more opportunities to compare.
“As we know, when we begin to compare ourselves with others, in the end we will fall short,” explained Gurr. “That’s when shame comes in. And shame is the hallmark of any eating disorder: I’m not good enough, smart enough, nice enough, that’s why you see a prevalence in those college years.”
The role universities play
So, the question is what responsibility do universities have with their incoming classes, and how could they best create an environment in which students do not fall into these traps?
Mysko explained: “One of the ways we work with colleges and universities is to encourage schools to promote NEDA’s free online screening tool that allows students to conduct a quick and anonymous self-assessment survey.”
If a student’s results indicate that they are at risk for an eating disorder, they can speak with a counselor on campus or contact the NEDA helpline for treatment and support options.
NEDA also has a program called Student Life, a national initiative to bring together students, faculty and campus services in the fight against eating disorders.
Mysko acknowledged that eating disorders arise from various factors and develop differently for each affected person, so it is not always possible to prevent an eating disorder. However, prevention efforts, such as the Body Project, that reduce negative risk factors (body dissatisfaction, depression or self-esteem) are effective strategies to reduce the rate of eating disorders.
A recent survey conducted by NEDA on Instagram highlighted the need for programs such as the Body Project. When NEDA asked their followers if their university campuses had resources for eating disorders, 83 percent (out of more than 1,000 responses) answered “no”.
Signs a loved one may need help
So, if college campuses are so poorly equipped to help students identify and address these problems, what signs of a potential problem should friends and family members be looking for?
Gurr explained that this can be difficult, since most eating disorders revolve around silence and secrecy.
“On average, a person with an eating disorder has an IQ between 125 and 135, so it’s pretty smart, and they’ll go to extreme means to not be discovered,” he said, noting that the brothers, Parents and friends say they had no idea that the person they loved was suffering.
The warning signs that Gurr described to look for include:
a concern for food (talking more, obsessing more, reviewing more labels, not wanting to go to restaurants, any kind of change in the relationship with food)
dysregulation of mood
memory loss or inability to concentrate
The hands and feet feel colder to the touch: the extremities can reach up to 12 degrees colder than the core body temperature
use layers or wrap yourself in a blanket in a room where everyone else seems fine
Cracked lips, dry skin, dehydration.
Feeling apathetic and with little energy.
unlinking in activities that once worried about
scabs and sores on the backs of their hands
peach fuzz that develops on the cheeks, neck and arms
fluctuations in weight
Constantly feeling their bodies, putting their hands around their wrists, their arms, or pinching the sides of their stomachs.
Addressing a potential problem
If you suspect that someone you love may be suffering from an eating disorder, Mysko recommends expressing your concerns with honesty and respect in a loving and supportive manner. “It’s also important to talk about your concerns from the beginning, rather than wait until a person shows physical and emotional signs of a full-blown eating disorder.”
She suggests using “I” statements such as “I care about you because you refuse to eat breakfast or lunch,” and avoid accusatory statements from “You” like, “You have to eat something! You’re out of control!”
“What I’ve found over the years is that when parents really recognize what’s going on, they want to fix it right away, being a father myself, I understand,” Gurr said. “But 9 times out of 10, the response from parents who believe it will help boost their child’s eating disorder even more. ”
Urge parents not to focus so much on behavior, because their child is much more than the eating disorder. Instead, he wants parents to see that behavior as a sign of struggle and wonder how they can support that struggle.