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Professionals discuss psychology behind eating disorders


College students are at an elevated risk for developing eating disorders and Boise State students are not exempt.

The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD) reported 25 percent of college-aged females used binging and purging to manage their weight.

Karla West, Ph.D. and director of counseling services, said peer pressure is a major reason why young people are so vulnerable to developing eating disorders.

“They are still learning and developing that whole identity process—psychological development of identity—so that influence can be much stronger during those years,” West said.

College students who live on campus may be more at risk.

“If you look at residential campuses, then you are magnifying the peer pressure group, because they tend to be around their peers all the time versus in the wider culture they may be around various generations,” West said.

Junior English major, with an emphasis in writing  Kim Wilson, who struggles with anorexia and bulimia, explained why being surrounded by people dealing with the same issues as her does more harm than good.

“One-on-one sessions with a therapist (are) beneficial, but a lot of the time I don’t think it’s helpful if people with eating disorders associate with other people with eating disorders,” Wilson said. “They tend to trigger each other.”

Media influences body image as well. West said young people are more susceptible to eating disorders because they constantly interact with media.

“College students are high users of social media and not just social media, but all types of media. So, they are very susceptible to those images as well,” said Megan McGuffey, graduate assistant and registered dietician with Wellness Services.

Wilson said the media perpetuates the notion of unhealthy dieting by promoting unrealistic standards.

“Self, Shape, Women’s Health, all those magazines, if you read the diets that they have, they are very, very restrictive. They talk about celebrities’ eating habits and those eating habits are ridiculous,” Wilson said.

People with eating disorders often exhibit low sense of self-worth, helplessness and fear of not fitting the physical standards society has created, West explained.

Many individuals with eating disorders struggle with control. West said some people develop these conditions as a result of wanting to have control over some aspect of their life.

“That’s a big thing with some eating disorders; people will revert when their life feels like they are out of control. That’s something they feel like they can control,” West said.

Wilson, who has generalized anxiety disorder, said she’s always had unorthodox ways of controlling her anxiety. After getting her wisdom teeth taken out, she found a new way to have control.

“Anytime I got really stressed out, I would just stop eating, because I would like the sense of control that I had,” Wilson said.

According to McGuffey, side effects of eating disorders include depression, loss of menstrual cycle, constipation, slowed metabolism, severe weight loss for anorexics and erosion of enamel for bulimics. Slowed metabolism results from reduced lean muscle mass and returns to normal when a healthy diet is established.

West stated that 1 in 10 cases of anorexia results in death, resulting from cardiac arrest, medical complications or suicide caused by depression.

“I think that people need to realize that we’re all beautiful and you don’t have to be like anyone else to be beautiful,” Wilson said.