Becoming what you don't eat

BY KRISTEN BARON | JUNE 26, 2014 5:00 AM

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A discussion centering on eating disorders on Wednesday shed light on the idea that many young people often suffer from a disorder that doesn’t fit neatly into any specific category.

Pamela Keel, the director of Clinical Training at Florida State and president of the Academy for Eating Disorders, gave presentations Tuesday and Wednesday at the Carver Biomedical Research Building about the disorder that millions of U.S. men and women suffer from, and she described how the illnesses can affect everyday life.

“Eating is a very social activity, which makes it hard to hide when you stop,” Keel said.

Eating disorders usually develop in adolescents ages 14 to 17 and are often diagnosed in a person’s late teens.

Michael Lutter, a UI assistant professor of psychiatry at the UI Eating Disorders Clinic, said being in a group such as a sorority or fraternity may make it harder for a person to hide an eating disorder.

“Clearly, the societal pressures for thinness are primary driving factors,” Lutter said, “Eating disorders cause a lot of emotional distress that is often well hidden.”

Further, Lutter noted, people in large groups are not the only ones susceptible to eating disorders.
Many college students involved in certain activities that put a high emphasis on weight, such as dance, gymnastics, and wrestling, can struggle with weight issues, Lutter said.

Keel said physicians look out for anorexia, but actually most eating disorders will fall into “other specified,” which include atypical anorexia, in which a person has lost a significant amount of weight, but is in a normal weight range.

Other less-known disorders include “purging disorder,” which does not include bingeing, and night-eating syndrome, where a person will eat large amounts at night.

“Anorexia nervosa is actually the least common eating disorder,” Keel said, “If you look for those who are emaciated, you’re going to miss a lot of cases.”

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 20 million women and 10 million men in the nation suffer from eating disorders.

Claire Mysko, a Proud2Bme project consultant with the National Eating Disorders Association, said social-media sites have increased the level of access that people have to the realm of eating disorders — and often in a negative way.

Mysko referenced what she called the “Pro-ana” websites – or “pro-anorexia” – which feature tips for not eating and are full of members who support each other’s destructive weight loss habits. On sites such as Twitter and Instagram, “#thinspiration” is often paired with pictures of unhealthily thin women.

Although no hard evidence exists suggesting those who develop eating disorders are affected by social media, plenty of anecdotal evidence stands out, Mysko said.

“Eating disorders are very serious illnesses; it’s not just vanity issues,” she said. “It does change the way you think and the way you feel.”

On the other end of the spectrum, obesity and overeating are not considered eating disorders, according to Keel.

“As human beings, we’re allowed to do things that aren’t perfectly healthy,” she said. “We live in a culture that encourages excess food intake.”

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