There are hidden dangers on college campuses across the country that can affect anyone, regardless of gender, age or race. They are called eating disorders, which come in many forms and often hide in plain sight.
a report released in February by the National Institute of Mental Health states that 25 percent of all college students struggle from an eating disorder. Studies also show that eating disorders are still on the rise, especially in males.
NEDA celebrated its 27th annual National Eating Disorder Awareness Week on Feb. 23. The event is dedicated to spreading knowledge about the stress factors, attitudes, and behaviors that contribute to eating disorders.
The organization selects a specific theme every year that focuses on important issues. This year’s theme, “I Had No Idea,” targets detection signs, misinformation, and intervention.
Since it’s formation in 2001, the organization has been the leading non-profit organization offering support and resources to those affected by these illnesses.
Events, including a walk in Santa Monica on Saturday, will be held all across the country to raise money for the many programs and services that the organization offers, and help spread information about early detection and social responsibilities.
According to NEDA officials, one of the biggest problems associated with eating disorders is “body-shaming,” which is when something is done or said (intentionally or not) to make someone feel negatively about their physical appearance.
Disordered eating is very complex. Although those suffering may want to improve their eating habits, treatment is rarely sought. Often times, eating disorders are hard to detect, even by doctors. Those affected often hide it due to shame, denial, or not wanting to stop, according to the organization. Furthermore, the behaviors and symptoms can vary from person to person and include over-exercising, stimulant abuse, and laxative abuse.
NEDA encourages individuals in every community (not just this week, but anytime) to do “just one thing” to spread the message. This can be through seminars and health fairs, or even just a friendly dialogue between neighbors. The organization has even offered to help schedule speakers for independent events.
According to experts, some of the warning signs for eating disorders include preoccupation with food, the need to weigh oneself several times a day, wanting to eat alone, or skipping meals altogether. A common characteristic is also a negative image of self that worsens
despite desired results.
Megan Ward, a licensed clinical psychologist at the Behavioral Health Center Hospital in Alhambra, said that the disorders have little to do with the eating and results. Methods of control over the disorder itself are used as a tool to cope with and mask other issues, often depression related . While people are genetically predisposed, disorders are usually triggered by a traumatic event.
Anxiety, depression, changes of life (puberty or menopause), or sexual assaults can be the serious traumas that put someone at risk, especially college students.
“Sometimes college itself is that traumatic event,” said Ward.
According to a study by the Journal of Eating Disorders called “The Spectrum of Eating Disturbances,” 35 percent of normal dieters progress to pathological dieting, and out of those, 20 to 25 percent progress to partial or full-syndrome eating disorders.
This was how Ciara Bruyere, a 17-year-old high school student, developed an eating disorder. She had been dieting and exercising since she was very young because she was afraid of becoming an over-eater like some of her relatives.
“I didn’t really notice until a health worker at school told me I was anorexic.” said Bruyere.
Bruyere’s anorexia did not develop until the age of 13, when her boyfriend at the time called her fat. The attitudes and comments around her would affect her greatly. A year later. a friend of Bruyere’s would teach her about bulimia nervosa, the practice of taking in excessive amounts of food followed by actions taken to prevent weight gain (such as self-induced vomiting). She would spend the next three years binging and purging.
Treatment programs like REASONS in Alhambra or A New Path in Santa Monica, offer treatment option adapted to most specific needs. Studies show that over half of eating disorders do not fit the criteria for anorexia or bulimia and fall into the category of eating disorders not otherwise specified or EDNOS.
Most who suffer with a disorder do not know they have a problem or do not want to seek help. Early detection and intervention by an informed family member or friend can sometimes be the difference between life and death.