Students, experts weigh in on eating disorders, ‘Freshman 15’

Posted Oct. 12, 2007

Each year the rate of eating disorders among college students increases.

With new pressures, a stressful work load, and the fear of gaining the “Freshman 15,” many students develop eating disorders in their attempt to gain control over the feeling of chaos college life sometimes evokes.

I had already put on seven pounds halfway though my freshman year, but was determined not to gain the Freshman 15.

Instead, the idea of losing 15 pounds sounded more glamorous.

But on my mission to attain my weight-loss goal I would have never anticipated I’d lose my hair, my appetite, my upbeat disposition – and almost my own life.

What had started out as a simple diet in my freshman year spiraled out of control into an eating disorder.

However, I know I am not the only person who has suffered from this condition.

There are many individuals that are affected by a variety of eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia: approximately 7 million women, and 1 million men in this country alone.

“I’ve heard a lot of people do it as an experiment,” said Lauren, a University of La Verne student recovering from an anorexia, who asked that her last name not be published. “I pushed myself as far as I could go.”

But there are still the lingering questions of what causes one to act out disordered eating behaviors.

“Desperation,” said Melissa Murren, a pre-doctoral trainee in physiology at the University of La Verne. “The question of why are we so desperate (to lose weight).”

While this might be a complex disease without a lot of answers, many people blame society, the media and the pictures they paint of the ideal body.

“There’s no absolute answer,” said Cindy Denne, the director of student health services at the University of La Verne. “Socio-cultural influences, pressure from the media, family, friends might be some causes.”

Disordered eating is when a person’s attitude about food, weight, and body size lead to very rigid eating and exercise habits that jeopardize one’s health.

According to health researchers Kurth Et Al., 91 percent of women surveyed on college campuses recently had attempted to control their weight through dieting.

Additionally, more than half of young women and nearly one-third of young men practice unhealthy behavior, such as smoking, skipping meals or taking laxatives for weight control,

Eating disorders are known as a silent disease, and many students might have an eating disorder or poor body image and not realize it.

“It’s difficult to admit,” Murren said. “Young adults see the media and think happiness equals beauty.”

“It’s almost brainwashing,” Lauren said. “There’s a lot of shame with it because no one wants to be fat, and a lot of people don’t understand that.”

In fact it is so difficult for people to talk about it that they have to create a “friend-like” name to cover their mental and physical condition.

People call this friend “Ana” for anorexia or “ED” for eating disorder.

The frustration that builds inside only suppresses the individual more.
While this may be a silent disease among college students, the media and tabloids cannot seem to stop talking about weight and dieting.

Senior movement and sports science major Lindsay Bistany, who has not been diagnosed with an eating disorder, said, “Society only accepts you if you are thin, so women place too much pressure on themselves.”

“Media standards strongly impact any genetic or environmental predisposition,” Denne said.

The media carries much of the blame for distorted ideas of body image.

For example, iconic superstar Marilyn Monroe was a size 12, yet was considered the standard for beauty back in the 1950s.

However, today we see our role models as Lindsay Lohan, Keira Knightley and Brad Pitt, who are all extremely fit or too thin.

This could be why statistics show that eating disorders are on the rise.

Since 1988, cases reported of bulimia have tripled and each decade has shown a significant increase in anorexia as well.

“People can diet as hard as they can and never have those bodies,” Murren said.

Yet what will it take to turn society’s perception around?

“The number on the scale doesn’t define what shape you are in,” Bistany said. “It’s about finding a happy medium.”

Also some individuals might struggle with the thought of getting into their adult bodies, which can be a scary thing.

“Understanding that every large body is not an unhealthy body is important,” Murren said.

Yet, if you have an eating disorder or know a friend who might be struggling with one, it’s important to reach out for help.

Sometimes it is difficult for those affected to get help because they are confused about where to turn.

The Internet can be a challenge because there are “pro-anorexia” Web sites that encourage such behavior.

There are diet sections on every homepage, like AOL, Yahoo, and MSN and television shows like “America’s Next Top Model,” which do not help the cause.

Ways to get help are to tell a friend, parent or coach.

If you are too scared, visit the National Eating Disorders Associations Web site and it will help you plan your first talk with someone.

However, if you have a friend who is frequently skipping meals, exercising excessively, and showing dramatic weight loss, he or she may be struggling with an eating disorder.

It is okay to approach them and offer help.

“Just think losing a friend is better than losing a friend’s life” Murren said.

“It’s difficult to tell a friend because you don’t want to accuse them or insult them,” Bistany said. “But as a friend you need to help them."

So with a good support system and education there is a way to get help.

“Making healthy decisions, portion control, and exercise are tactics for beating the Freshman 15,” Denne said.

And always remember that moderation is key.

Because you may miss out on having a fun-filled college career if all you do it spend your time dieting.

Today, I would be lying if I said my weight did not concern me.

Now I have a sense of control, and an understanding of the life-threatening consequences that come with an eating disorder. I workout because I enjoy it and I eat a healthy diet, which even includes dessert everyday.

Jennifer Gilderman can be reached at

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