Although eating a few extra desserts at the buffet-style dining hall each night and gaining the dreaded “Freshman Fifteen” is a concern for many college students, there’s another weight-related issue plaguing young people on college campuses across the country: eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, and binging affect more young people than you may realize.
The idea that “super-skinny equals beautiful” is hammered into us every time we turn on the TV or pick up a magazine. Actresses and models are thinner than ever, and celebrities are chastised as soon as the paparazzi capture photos of them looking like they’ve gained weight. Some young women believe that unless they’re as thin as the popular stars, they won’t be successful in life. The desire to lose weight and then maintain an extremely low body weight winds up becoming their top priority, and their relationships and education suffer along with their health.
Eating disorders affect people of all ages and both sexes, but they are most common in teenage girls and young women. It’s often easy for college students to hide their eating disorders until it’s too late because of their busy schedules and hectic lifestyles. There are quite a few documented eating disorders, but three of the most common are anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating.
Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by a refusal to maintain a normal, healthy body weight. People with anorexia may start out dieting casually but take things too far. They have an intense desire to be extremely thin and a huge fear of gaining weight or getting fat. They also have a distorted body image, thinking that they look much bigger than they actually are.
People with anorexia eat very infrequently, and they often eat low-calorie food such as salads and vegetables. Their obsessions with food often cause them to stop going to parties or other social events where food will be present in order to hide the fact that they’re not eating, and they often claim that they’re “not hungry” if they’re forced to be around food.
Extreme exercise to burn calories as soon as food is consumed is another potential sign that someone may have anorexia.
Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder that may be harder to detect because bulimics are often closer to a normal body weight than anorexics. Bulimia is most often characterized by binging and purging: someone suffering from bulimia will overeat then vomit or use laxatives to rid their body of the food they ate before they can digest it.
Binge eating differs from bulimia because someone who goes on regular eating binges will not purge themselves afterward. Instead, binge eaters often force themselves to fast afterward because they feel guilty about all the food they consumed during their binge. Extreme binge eaters may be of normal body weight or even overweight or obese.
Some people suffer from a combination of these eating disorders. For example, someone who seems to have anorexia and starves themselves may wind up binge eating and vomiting. Eating disorders can cause extreme damage to your organs and your body, and the damages are sometimes irreversible. Dehydration and electrolyte imbalances caused by frequent vomiting can lead to cardiac arrest and even death. Yes, the quest to be thin could lead to a heart attack.
I am not a doctor or any sort of expert, but eating disorders are mentally and physically dangerous: they require professional help. If you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, please seek assistance. The student health department at your school will be able to help or refer you to a proper medical facility.
Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.
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