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  Obesity: Not an Eating Disorder
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  Bad Experiences & Eating Disorders

Who Doesn't Worry About Weight?

Social pressures
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.

Boston College Eating Awareness Team
Last Updated: January 28, 2002