Eating Disorders: An Unseen Issue

It starts out simply. After a long night with friends, you sneak off to the bathroom, turn on the sink to drown out the sounds of retching, and tell yourself that you’re one step closer to that perfect body. Force down a bottle of water and wonder if tonight’s purge will take out more calories than were put in. Maybe you wanted to drop the last three pounds. Maybe you were surrounded by insults, and this was your only means of feeling powerful again. You thought it would be a onetime introduction of your middle finger to the back of your throat. But before you know it, the two have become best friends, running into each other at least twice a day.

Purging after meals quickly becomes a routine of shameful cleansing. The issue develops from a variety of different causes including emotional distress, body image issues, unrealistic standards or psychological influences. Primarily, eating disorders begin as a way to gain control, usually over a flawed figure, but swiftly develop into a life-threatening mental illness.

Eating disorders are particularly prevalent among college-aged students and often go undetected. Specifically, 95 percent of eating disorders develop between the ages 12 to 26. This trend has an inordinate impact on college-aged women. Faced with campus cultures where fat shaming is an accepted practice, 1 in 4 college-aged women engage in bingeing and purging.

Similar to those affected, eating disorders come in many shapes and sizes. Anorexia, bulimia and binge eating are the three primary types. Anorexia is associated with frequently skipping meals and extreme fears of weight gain. A person with bulimia binges by eating large amounts of food and then purges by means of vomiting, excessive exercise or laxatives. Although similar to bulimia, a person who binge eats does so as a coping mechanism for stress and difficult emotions.

In a grim reality, only 1 in 10 people with eating disorders receive treatment. As a result, anorexia, bulimia and binge eating have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Asking for help and letting go of the power gained from purging is a terrifying option to consider. But as eating disorders are left behind so too are the misplaced feelings of inadequacy and self doubt. Fortunately for MSU students, Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS) is a valuable resource that is staffed by clinicians who are eager and trained to help.

CPS provides free counseling services to MSU students and are specifically designed to aid those who are struggling with eating disorders. Counseling is offered in the form of support groups in addition to individual services. Dr. Ryan Niehus, the groups coordinator at CPS, “offers a support group for students looking to explore, challenge and grow beyond their eating issues.” According to Dr. Niehus, 11 percent of students who came to CPS for services over the past academic year reported having concerns related to eating issues. Moreover, 15 percent of these students had concerns relating to body image.

If you find yourself obsessing over meals, struggling with body image issues or vomiting up tonight’s dinner, you are not alone. Seeking help is a courageous first step in the process of recovery. Take the advice of Dr. Niehus and “move toward what you might be afraid of … talking to a counselor, and CPS can be a great place to start.”

Counseling and Psychological Services is open Monday – Friday 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Appointments can be easily made by calling 994-4531.