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ISSUE 118 VOL 11 PUBLISHED 2/25/2005

Eating disorders all too common

By Nicole Grunzke
Contributing Writer

Friday, February 25, 2005

Do you wake up every morning thinking of what you are going to eat, when and how much you are going to be able to exercise when and where you are going to be able to throw up?

Do you wonder if your body has grown since last night, if you still fit into your pants and how much you will weigh when you step on the scale?

One or all of these thoughts can create a never-ending nightmare that can swirl through the minds of anyone who struggles with an eating disorder, disordered eating and/or body image dissatisfaction.

Two of the most prominent eating disorders are Anorexia and Bulimia. Anorexia Nervosa is the refusal to maintain a minimal weight, the fear of weight gain and a distorted perception of one’s body image.

Bulimia Nervosa involves distorted body image, binge eating (eating a large amount of food in a short period of time and feeling a loss of control) and the use of compensatory methods (i.e. self-induced vomiting, overexercising, laxative abuse) to eliminate the effects of the binge.

Eating disorders such as these can also cause numerous psychological and physical complications and can ultimately result in death.

One does not have to meet all of the aforementioned criteria for these disorders in order to be struggling with an eating disturbance that impedes one’s ability to function. Furthermore, body image dissatisfaction can be a significant problem in itself.

When a student is troubled with ongoing obsessions and preoccupations about eating patterns, exercise, body image and/or weight, he or she is being taken away from things that are important to him or her.

Relationships and academics are often negatively affected because eating disturbances can cause the sufferer to avoid social interaction and can create significant concentration deficits.

The rumor has been that St Olaf has more students who struggle with eating disorders than on any other local campus.

Although the rumor is not accurate, it may seem true because eating disorders remain a serious issue on this campus, just as on other campuses.

It is estimated that one in four female college students have disordered eating or an eating disorder and one to seven percent of male students suffer from eating disorders.

The college environment can be a breeding ground for eating disorders due to the ongoing stressors including academic pressures and rigors.

Other pressures include attempts to reach self-expectations, as well as the expectations of others, efforts to get into a specific social network, athletics or adjusting to independence. Not only that, but finding the “right” romantic partner, trying to prevent body change and balancing social life, extracurricular activities and family life into daily functioning contribute to stress.

Moreover, Western culture (and many believe St. Olaf culture) sets ideals for beauty that are unrealistic for the majority of people. For some, disordered eating can become an attempt to reach an ideal image, cope with pressure and manage difficult emotions.

Eating disorders can develop in anyone and are not a sign of weakness or failure.

While participating in counseling, a student wrote this letter to her Bulimia: “You no longer run my life, you no longer make me insecure, you no longer dim my bright times, you no longer ruin my fun, and you no longer make me moody. You no longer make me hide; you no longer make me scared.”

She continues: “You still nag at me once in a while, but I am strong – and I know you are not a friend, but a deceiver. Eating does not solve my problems, bingeing does not help me understand, and purging is not going to make the stress go away. “

Her letter concludes: “Separating myself from those I love so I can spend time with you is not fulfilling. It does make me full, but when I throw up, I am empty again – the comfort of the highness is quickly gone and replaced with hurt, even more confusion and emptiness. I am now becoming strong through facing my fears head on and dealing with my problems.”

If you or someone you care about is struggling with an eating disorder, there is help available on campus. If someone is ready to seek help, the counseling center is a free, confidential resource that will collaborate with the student to help fight against the eating disorder, body image dissatisfaction or disordered eating. The center provides counseling, nutritional consultation and/or psychiatric consultation.


Staff Counselor Nicole Grunzke is a Licensed Psychologist with a doctorate in psychology. She works for the St. Olaf counseling center

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