Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Eating disorders prevalent among female college students

Eating disorders are gaining more national recognition as more women begin to tell about their personal experiences with the silent and complex disease.

Eating disorders affect only 1 percent to 2 percent of the general population, scientists say, but those numbers are much higher among female college students.

Experts say the numbers may even be higher than suspected due to the discreet nature of the disease’s symptoms and the strict criteria doctors use to officially make a diagnosis.

“Many women have clinically significant symptoms but may not fit the specific criteria for anorexia or bulimia,” said Lissie Bates-Haus, a predoctoral psychology intern at University Health Services. “It’s really concerning that 30 to 40 percent of college women are engaging in really serious behaviors.”

Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are two of the most common eating disorders.

Anorexia nervosa’s symptoms include an intense fear of fat, and the disease often involves a severe restriction of caloric intake with or without the presence of purging. Those suffering from anorexia are often severely underweight yet still view themselves as fat.

Bulimia nervosa includes cycles of bingeing and purging, which may involve vomiting and laxatives. Compulsive exercise is another means of purging. Bulimics usually have normal body weight yet have an extreme fear of gaining weight.

Eating disorders involve a complex series of unhealthy attitudes and behaviors that revolve around food and weight, but are only symptoms of deeper psychological problems.

Genetic predisposition, chemical imbalances, familial influences, and psychological factors all meld together to determine whether a person will be affected by an eating disorder.

Modern media’s portrayal of women also plays a large role in influencing young women to strive for an unhealthy body image.

“None of these people have a decent relationship with food,” said Elizabeth Freitick, a dietician at UHS. “But its more than just food. There’s a definite cultural and societal piece here.”

Freitick said women grow up in a society that pressures them to look a certain way, which can have immense psychological ramifications.

“As young impressionable women, we have been assaulted by what the alcohol, tobacco and fashion industry says what our bodies should look like,” Freitick said.

But eating disorders are not exclusive to women.

Men also experience many of the same cultural pressures to be thin and muscular, though men are less likely to seek help.

All of these factors combined can have consequences for people suffering some of the more serious symptoms of the diseases, including arrhythmias, heart attacks, eruption of the esophagus, amenorrhea, osteoporosis, kidney failure and even death.

Treatment for eating disorders involves a multipronged approach that includes nutritional guidance, cognitive and behavioral therapy and possible medication.

“It’s a complex thing to try to help people sort it out, and that why it’s really important that a treatment program have many different pieces for treatment,” Freitick said.

UHS offers resources and programs for those looking for help.

The Healthy Eating Program combines the efforts of psychiatrists, psychologists, medical doctors, and nutritionists to help people who are concerned they may have an eating disorder.

Freitick and Bates-Haus also said information can be found on various websites that are excellent resources for both friends and sufferers. Two suggested sites, they said, are, a comprehensive site with personal stories, information for friends and families and a treatment finder, and, the official site for the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders.

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