Eating Disorders

The LSU Student Union sits on 310 LSU Student Union on Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019.

In recent years, eating disorders have gained more awareness, and schools are starting to take proactive measures to inform their students of both the risks and the treatment options available.

The University has several pamphlets and online student resources which address eating disorders, including treatment brochures, but unfortunately the same cannot be said for disordered eating. 

The Mindwise PDF posted on the University's website which gives students information about eating disorders refers to both “disordered eating” and “eating disorders” interchangeably, but while the two are undoubtedly connected, they’re not the same.

According to Temimah Zucker, LMSW, with the National Eating Disorders Association, “normalized, non-disordered eating is when one mindfully consumes food when hungry and is able to stop when full. Additionally, they incorporate variety into their diet.” Disordered eating and eating disorders both diverge from non-disordered eating and involve irregular and unhealthy eating patterns and behaviors.

Disordered eating, however, does not meet the requirements for a specific eating disorder as listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition (DSM-5), though it often still reflects many of the symptoms of eating disorders such as binge eating disorder, anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa.

According to National Eating Disorders Collaboration, disordered eating includes fasting or chronic restrained eating, skipping meals, binge eating, self-induced vomiting, restrictive dieting, unbalanced eating such as restricting a major food group, laxative misuse and use of diet pills. It also includes struggling with body image issues, anxiety surrounding food, fear of weight gain and obsessive thoughts about food or body image. 

Many of those symptoms can also indicate eating disorders, but the main differences according to Zucker are the frequency of the behavior and the level of obsession.

However, it’s important to consult a doctor, therapist or specialist if you experience any of the aforementioned symptoms, because diagnosing eating disorders takes practice, and every case is unique and requires a deeper understanding than a college opinion column can provide. 

I know that a lot of people reading this will think, “well, everyone does that! Who doesn’t count calories, cut carbs and workout to make up for those ‘bad’ foods?”

But that is precisely the point. Disordered eating has become so normalized, most of us don’t even register it as irregular or disturbing anymore. 

Sometimes disordered eating — whether it means cutting out specific food groups, repeatedly skipping meals or following a new diet trend every week — works for some people, as it doesn’t interfere with their lives or daily functions. Therefore, they promote it as "normal," perpetuating the cultural myth that disordered eating is healthy and sustainable. 

The same types of behaviors that “work” for some people end up being precursors to eating disorders in others. 

Social media plays a big role in normalizing disordered eating. “Fitspo” posts, healthy recipe accounts and hashtags like #gymlife all contribute to this image of what it looks like to be healthy, which doesn’t always match up with reality.

Eating a balanced, varied diet is great, and exercising is good for keeping your mind and body active, but avoiding carbs or fatty foods and working out every day doesn’t necessarily make you healthy. 

The awareness brought to eating disorders is amazing, but we need to expand that awareness to encompass disordered eating as well. Not only should we be giving students the information and tools they need to recover, we should also be bringing awareness to the behaviors and habits which often lead to full-blown disorders.

According to Healthline, an estimated 30 million Americans will struggle with an eating disorder in their lifetime, and more and more are starting on college campuses. The social pressures and turbulent lifestyle changes lend themselves to the promotion of eating disorders, which are now disproportionately affecting college students. 

Eating disorders can affect people permanently, causing osteoporosis, lasting body image issues, etc. But so can disordered eating. We internalize the shame it causes, and our perception of food, exercise and even ourselves shifts because of it. 

This is a real and deadly affliction that's happening all around us. We as students should be more conscious of how we perpetuate negative social behaviors surrounding food; whether it's how we personally treat food, how we talk about it or simply how much of an effort we make to educate ourselves about the realities of disordered eating.

Marie Plunkett is a 22-year-old classical studies senior from New Orleans.

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