Mary Jo likes to chew food and then spit it out because she wants the taste, not the calories. Dennis likes to binge on food, and then vomit because he doesn’t want all his time at the gym to go to waste. Jenny counts every calorie, and refuses to eat any form of carbohydrates.
According to Kim May, a dietician and nutrition counselor at the USF Health Services Annex, all three of these are examples of disordered eating. While they might not be clinically classified as having an eating disorder, these three people are on their way to serious health problems.
What kind of problems you may wonder? Anorexics, those who starve themselves, have to deal with heart failure due to low blood pressure and slow heart rate, osteoporosis, muscle loss and weakness, kidney failure caused by dehydration, dry hair and skin and hair loss.
Bulimics, those who binge and purge, also have to deal with heart failure due to electrolyte imbalances, gastric ruptures, inflammation and possible rupture of the esophagus, tooth decay and staining from stomach acids, peptic ulcers and pancreatitis.
Those who overeat have an increased risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, heart disease, diabetes and gallbladder disease.
In order to prevent eating disorders, it is more important to address the cultural obsession with slenderness than to warn of the symptoms and dangers, according to the National Eating Disorders Association.
“We are bombarded with literally hundreds of visual images — advertisements, television and movie story lines, magazine covers and articles, billboards — every day which promote an unrealistic ideal of thinness, beauty and sensuality, as well as messages that these are the keys to success and happiness,” said Dale Hicks, associate director of the Counseling Center for Human Development.
May said this is an important issue to address because eating disorders are common among college-age people. May said she has counseled students with disordered eating and knows the reality of the situation.
“One of my closest friends has an eating disorder,” May said. “People don’t think it’s a problem because no one talks about it.”
According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 10 million females and 1 million males struggle with eating disorders.
Eating disorders have little more to do with food.
“There are many contributing factors which lead to eating disorders, including self-esteem and body image difficulties, anxiety and depression, sexual abuse, perfectionism, early family dynamics and, of course, genetics,” Hicks said.
If a person has an unhealthy obsession with his or her weight and body image, it could be a red flag that he or she is experiencing disordered eating. Things such as chronic dieting are symptoms of this, Hicks said.
“(Individuals with eating disorders) often count calories, weigh themselves daily, are on diets most of the time, are overly self-conscious about their appearance and often have a distorted image of themselves, such as believing that they are heavier than they actually are. They often believe that others are judging them by their control, or lack of control, of food, and they are sometimes anxious or uncomfortable eating in front of others, and may avoid doing so,” Hicks said.
Sometimes those who have eating disorders do not exhibit symptoms, and even if they exhibit symptoms, they are healthy, May said. However, she said it wouldn’t hurt to start a dialogue about eating habits with the ones you love.