By Natalie Morales
In the United States, 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some point in their life, according to the National Eating Disorders Association.
Despite this trend, research continues to be underfunded, insurance coverage of treatment remains inadequate, and body image issues remain constant from societal pressures.
It is most common for people in college to develop bulimia or a binge eating disorder, said McKenzie Wilkes, assistant director for the Center for the Study of Addiction and Recovery in the College of Human Sciences at Texas Tech University.
She became interested in this field after seeing several women in her sorority struggle with an eating disorder.
“I just saw how much it impacted their lives and their family lives,” Wilkes said. “Almost everyone I know struggles with some sort of body image issue or maybe disordered pattern for eating.”
Eating disorders are a behavioral manifestation of an internal conflict or struggle, the specifics of which can vary from person to person, Wilkes said. She stresses the importance of developing a healthy relationship with food.
Emmy Lu Trammell, a licensed dietitian who is currently a doctoral student in nutritional sciences at Texas Tech University, said eating disorders are a hidden problem on every college campus.
We are surrounded by a lot of people with eating disorders or severely disordered eating, Trammell said, but because of the secrecy surrounding the condition, people do not realize how prevalent the issue is.
Wilkes said she has worked with quite a few athletes on campus who think a certain body weight will equal a certain level of performance. Organizations on campus can also have an impact and cause some to turn to eating disorders, she added.
“People can have a negative influence on others because you’ve got so many different personalities and different lifestyles and different people just meshed into one organization,” Wilkes said.
When one faces the stresses of being a college student, personal insecurities often come out, Wilkes said. Denial, guilt and shame are the emotions that most frequently keep people in the cycle of sickness.
Trammell said a common problem in recognizing and treating eating disorders is misunderstanding what is happening.
“Eating disorders are not just a phase in someone’s life,” Trammell said. “It’s a real thing that probably started years and years prior to someone recognizing it. They don’t think it’s a life-long problem, and it’s a chronic disorder.”
She also said most people assume an eating disorder has to manifest in a certain way, but that is often not the case.
“It’s not just I do something funny with food,” Trammell said. “It’s a million different factors that play into it that really are distressing and tormenting to the individual in the same way a cocaine addict would be tormented by cocaine cravings.”
It is also concerning that those who have had anorexia in the past are often told by physicians or dietitians to lose weight based on their BMI, she said. Instead, she recommends that medical professionals take a holistic approach to an individual’s health.
“That includes emotional, social, spiritual, physical,” Trammell said. “It’s not a weight.”
Although eating disorders are still more prevalent among women, there has been a drastic increase in the number of men suffering from body-image-related conditions. The associated symptoms, however, are often different. For example, more men struggle with overexercising than women.
Trammell said these symptoms all fall into the realm of eating disorders, even if they do not look like anorexia or bulimia, which are the most well-known disorders.
Few resources exist in Lubbock for those who need help with eating disorders. One positive development is that the Student Wellness Center began an eating disorder support group last month.
“There’s a huge gap in resources,” Trammell said. “The more that get on board, the better.”
To hear a dance student’s eating disorder story, watch below: