In this time of heightened awareness of health, fitness, and body image,
it would only stand to reason that more and more people are attempting
to find ways to manage their weight and influence their appearance. In
many sectors of our society, body image has found an idealized status
that is shaped by particular views of what will reward us with health,
happiness and success. Standards of weight and appearance of course vary
across cultures and are not even consistent within our "American"
society. However it is probably generally true that the world in which
students live while at Boston College, and the worlds from which most
of them come before entering college, are dominated by messages signaling
distinct standards for physical appearance. The social pressures for ideal
body weight and image have propelled many people, both females and males,
to engage in unhealthy styles of weight management. Eating issues affect
an estimated 5 million people every year.
Eating issues or eating disorder?
Because everyone takes in those messages from the media and surrounding
culture, many people are uneasy with their eating habits and physical
appearance. The range of normal body types and constitutions with which
people are born is hugely varied. The discrepancies between how people
are physically, and how they think they should be, thus can be very large
and very painful unless people have a healthy amount of perspective and
self-acceptance to counteract society's pressures. What this means is
that people can fall anywhere along the continuum from having eating issues
all the way to having eating disorders.
Who defines an eating disorder?
There are formal and official criteria the medical and psychiatric professions
use to diagnose eating disorders. If you are wondering about this for
yourself or regarding someone you know, then you probably have reason
to be concerned. While we can offer you some guidelines here in making
your own judgments, we strongly recommend that you find consultation with
a professional. Ask about your questions, share your concerns: in the
end, a professional is the only one who really can give you an objective,
informed opinion. Both medical professionals (e.g., doctors, nurses, nutritionists)
and mental health professionals (e.g., psychologists, psychiatrists) are
bound by laws that require them to keep private what you reveal (excepting
in certain rare circumstances, such as when a person's life may be in
danger). This means that any of the health professionals to whom you might
turn on campus cannot and will not share or release information to anyone,
unless you have given your explicit permission for it-not your parents,
not your friends, not your academic dean or professors or coaches. You
are lucky that B.C. has a collection of medical and mental health professionals
on campus who are available to you and who are expert in recognizing,
understanding and knowing what kind of help is needed for the problems
with eating and weight that college students encounter.
Recognizing when there's a problem
When has a diet gone too far? When is a method of keeping weight down,
too much? When has body image become too important? Think about just how
much of your waking hours are caught up in thinking about or doing things
related to eating or your weight. Has it increased? Have you become driven
by it? Has it become more important than doing other things you used to
favor? Does it distract your attention from schoolwork, relationships?
Think honestly about the consequences of your eating and weight issues.
On a physical level: are you feeling weaker, getting sick more often?
Do you have headaches, a sore throat, gastro-intestinal problems? On a
mental level: are you having trouble concentrating, do you have less mental
stamina, does your thinking seem dulled? On an emotional level: do you
find your emotions change according to what you have eaten or how much,
or what you have done to try to get rid of the calories you've ingested?
Do you often feel ashamed, guilty, disgusted, do you hate yourself sometimes?
Behaviorally, are you more withdrawn from people, more secretive, avoidant,
depressed? Are you more obsessive, more compulsive and rigid about your
eating and weight behaviors? Any of the above is a problem. Don't let
it get worse, because it easily can. Don't let it persist, because it
will distort your future health and worse, impair your capacity to develop
in all the ways you can and should be at this time in your life. Don't
let your life become stunted.