Eating disorders can be silent problems that even those suffering do not acknowledge. National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, which took place this week, is meant to bring these problems to light.
More than 30 million people suffer from eating disorders in the United States alone, according to Jessica Surdey, a professor in the health and wellness department.
According to Randi Scheiner, University Counseling Center (UCC) staff psychologist, the media remains a known trigger for eating disorders, yet there are additional causes that aren’t as well-known.
“Some women that develop eating disorders have a real anxiety about being big in the world,” Scheiner said. “By big, I mean both physically and more than physically: being assertive, being a person, being a thinker.”
Scheiner said men face similar issues with body image, but tend to be less vocal about it with their peers. While men and women both tend to strive for a slim physique, many men feel they need to be extremely muscular as well.
“Traditionally we think of females with eating disorders, but body image, low self-esteem and low self-confidence affects both genders the same,” Surdey said.
According to Scheiner, common warning signs of an eating disorder are losing weight in a short amount of time, thinning hair, leaving the room right after a meal, dark circles under eyes, scabbed knuckles and fainting. Scheiner said it was important to note that anyone can be affected by eating disorders, regardless of their body type.
Students are advised to be supportive of peers they feel may be struggling with an eating disorder.
“The way you talk to someone with an eating disorder is to be very personal, not be attacking, say what you see and are concerned about and that you want them to get help,” Scheiner said. “Have options ready for them of where to get help.”
The UCC uses a treatment team approach for students suffering from eating disorders.
After attending the UCC, students are paired with a therapist whom they see on a regular basis, a nutritionist who helps them devise a personalized diet plan and either a psychiatrist in the health center or a medical professional from home in more extreme cases.
“A huge component for people with eating disorders is learning about proper nutrition, since most people with eating disorders think they’re eating healthily, but they’re not,” Scheiner said.
The Counseling Center helps students with anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder. Many counselors also meet with students who have subclinical disorders, which don’t meet the criteria for a full-blown disorder but have many of the symptoms.
“One of the big predictors to lifelong health and wellness is high self-esteem and high self-advocacy,” Surdey said. “If you don’t value yourself and have a pretty strong self-image, you won’t necessarily be healthy lifelong.”
While there are no official statistics, eating disorders affect Binghamton University as well. One student, who wished to remain anonymous, began her battle with anorexia in her junior year of high school. She initially tried to lose weight by running up to 8 miles a day while eating less.
She said her disorder didn’t seem problematic at first, but eventually she realized it was an issue.
“I simply was not eating enough and enjoying it. I felt powerful and invincible,” she said. “I was a top runner and student, and I wanted to look perfect, too.”
She is working with UCC and getting support from home to maintain a healthy diet.
“I didn’t realize at first that I was losing a ton of hair, couldn’t pay attention, was always tired and freezing and woke up in the middle of the night,” she said. “It took a lot of pressuring by my parents and even some upset friends to really cause me to make a change.”
This week holds extra significance for her, since it is the first anniversary of her entering recovery. While she said she still struggles at times, she views recovery as a lifelong commitment.
“I didn’t make all the right choices until very recently, with the Nutrition Clinic, to be honest,” she said. “They wanted me to add about 1,200 calories to my day, and that was hard for me to do.”
She is now proud of her healthier eating habits and takes pride in her body.
“One day, we will figure out a way to make this a thing of the past. For now though, it’s too prevalent,” she said. “What we have to do is create awareness, positive understanding and give and get help.”