Seven million females in America suffer from an eating disorder and 95 percent of those girls fall between the ages of 12 and 25. College towns, specifically, are hugely affected by eating disorders, but not much is being done to increase awareness on campus.
Eating disorders are characterized mainly by anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating, although there are a few other forms. Anorexia is the most common eating disorder among young men and women, though the qualifications for an eating disorder are continually changing and becoming more general, causing the number of eating disorder diagnoses to increase. Some people may suffer from anorexia and bulimia at the same time, but it would fall under the category of “eating disorder non-specific.”
Although there is no one cause of eating disorders, women across America are continually under pressure by the media, society and low self-esteem. Magazines feature scarily skinny models that make women feel as though they need to diet. Guys are another important factor. Women, college girls especially, feel that guys only talk to them if they are “skinny or fit.” There is no denying that guys put pressure on women to workout and be in the best shape possible.
Yet, eating disorders aren’t solely a vanity issue. It’s a serious mental health illness. In fact, anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Eating disorders are most often associated with depression, anxiety, OCD or “perfectionist” type personalities. Men and women who have control issues find that eating disorders helps them feel in control of their life.
“It’s a coping mechanism. And just like drugs and alcohol, though it’s a different dynamic, I think its something that can help someone feel like they’ve got everything together and in control,” said Beth Parker, a clinical social worker and eating disorder therapist in Columbia.
College girls just leaving high school also deal with high stress, which is a determining factor of eating disorders.
“In any college town there will always be a steady stream, due to the age group. There’s a lot of stress, a lot of competition, a lot of pressure to look good,” Parker said.
In March, MU students hosted a 5k run/walk for the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) where they raised over $7,000 for the association. The walk was hosted in Columbia to increase awareness in the community and at the four college campuses in the area. Emmy Boyd, a sophomore at MU, hosted the walk to increase awareness.
“I started the NEDA walk because when I came to Mizzou, as with most cities, there isn’t a lot of dialogue about eating disorders. They are still viewed as a “taboo” subject and no one wants to bring them up because they are afraid of them,” said Boyd. “Being a college town, I felt there needed to be a dialogue about eating disorders while in college because of stress of pressure, and the fact that they are not talked about was alarming to me,” Boyd said.
The MU Counseling Center on campus has therapists and doctors that specifically work with eating disorders. If you feel you or a friend may be suffering, call (573) 882-6601 or visit 119 Parker Hall on campus for more information.