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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Eating disorders a campus concern

The stress of college can trigger eating disorders in some students or cause a relapse in those previously treated.

Nearly 20 percent of college students said they have or have had eating disorders, according to a 2006 National Eating Disorders Association survey. Anorexia nervosa and bulimia are the most common eating disorders at the UA, according to Campus Health Service professionals.

Those suffering from anorexia restrict their eating and often become severely underweight. Bulimic behavior includes eating large amounts of food and later compensating by vomiting, taking laxatives or exercising excessively. Both disorders can be tied to mental health and body image issues.

Gale Welter, coordinator of nutrition services for Campus Health, said about 30 percent of her appointments with students are related to eating disorders.

“”That might boil down to three or four a week,”” Welter said.

Students treated for eating disorders see nutritionists and mental health clinicians at Campus Health and may participate in a student support group. They also receive medical care in some cases.

“”It’s very common,”” said Laura Orlich, a mental health clinician for Counseling and Psychological Services, about eating disorders on campus. “”We don’t keep a tally, but we would say it’s definitely a concern.””

Some students seeking help have recovered from eating disorders in earlier years.

“”They come to college as freshmen, and the situation is so overwhelming that they regress right back into it,”” Welter said.

Welter said college students are thrust into a new peer group and environment, which can be stressful. Eating disorders may provide a sense of security.

“”It was giving you a sense that you had control over something,”” Welter said.

Disordered eating exists on a continuum, Orlich said. While some people may be preoccupied with food and what they eat, others are obsessed. The new freedom found in college can push some students to develop diagnosable eating disorders.

“”It’s a degree of difference, but the same contributing factors,”” Orlich said. “”Stressors increase in college because you have to manage your food. You have more freedom. You have to get your food.””

Orlich said these eating disorders can initially begin with the desire to lose weight.

“”People get barraged with that media and press ‘thin ideal,'”” she said.

The behavior can then be used as a coping technique for unrelated problems and emotions.

“”They see other people with what they think are perfect bodies, and they use the eating disorder to manage both stress and body image,”” Orlich said. Most people develop eating disorders before the age of 25, according to Welter. Some students said eating disorders are rarely discussed in college. “”We learned in a food class we had about anorexia and bulimia (in high school),”” said public health freshman Evelyn Aguirre.

Aguirre said she had a friend who developed an eating disorder in high school, but has not discussed the disorder since coming to the UA.

“”I haven’t actually heard people talking about them,”” Aguirre said.

Other students said they have no personal experience with eating disorders, but use the media to stay informed.

“”It’s just come up recently because there’s a show I watch called ‘What’s Eating You,'”” said Jessica McQuillen, an undeclared freshman, who added the show helps viewers identify the signs and symptoms of the disorders.

Welter said most college students have basic knowledge of eating disorders, though it is difficult for Campus Health to reach the entire campus.

“”It’s not that they’re not aware,”” Welter said. “”It’s just that it’s not in their face as much.””

Campus Health holds several events each year focusing on positive body image.

“”There needs to be an upgrade in more awareness and education on an ongoing basis,”” Welter said. “”We are certainly aware of it.””

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