Eating disorders more prevalent in springtime

Margaret Wilbourne

Students are flocking to the gym to get in shape and slim down as they try to meet their New Year’s resolutions and prepare for spring break; but the goal of weight loss is not an easy goal to meet, and some find themselves stressed out and endangering their health.

According to studies done by the National Eating Disorders Association, eating disorders typically begin between the ages of 18 and 21, the typical collegiate years. A 13-year study conducted at one U.S. college shows an increase in eating disorders by 23 to 32% among women and 7.9 to 25% among men.

Spring seems to invite increases in risky eating practices, which can lead to eating disorders. Student Health Center nutritionist Sheena Gregg, assistant director of health education and prevention, said there are several factors behind the increase.

“This can be due to students wanting to prepare for spring break by engaging in extreme forms of diet and exercise, or feeling pressured to lose weight [gained] from the holidays,” Gregg said. “Diets are difficult to maintain, and in turn, many people develop dangerous eating habits, which can then lead to eating disorders.”

Dabney Powell, a junior majoring in nutrition, warned against methods guaranteeing to drop pounds quickly.

“We did just get out of the holidays, and people consume a lot more, and don’t work out as much,” Powell said. “They latch on to fad diets or skip meals where they don’t need to – this will only slow down your metabolism.”

Powell pointed out that cutting out certain foods, rather than food entirely, is more effective and healthier for the body.

“Not eating won’t help,” Powell said. “Instead cut out salt, sugar, butter. Rather than go for processed foods, take time to keep yourself healthy – make it a priority to fix fresh foods.”

Stress to slim down to what one considers a good spring break body or to lose extra weight from the holidays can also lead to dangerous habits. Kate Crawford, a counselor for Bradford Health Services in Northport, helps clients deal with stress, which can help prevent relapses into unhealthy behaviors.

“Stress is difficult because it will always be a trigger and will always be present in a person’s life,” Crawford said. “I think the awareness of one’s own stressors and triggers can be beneficial to stop the ‘automatic’ response to stress that people adopt, [like dieting].”

The University offers options to those seeking safe weight loss plans, or who feel they might be using dieting or food restriction in an unhealthy way.

“Resources are available on campus to help students reach their health or weight goals in an appropriate manner,” Gregg said. “Nutrition counseling appointments [are available] at the Student Health Center.”

Gregg recommended contacting the UA Counseling Center as the first step if concerned about yourself or a friend that may be exhibiting dangerous eating behaviors.

“Treatment and recovery for eating disorders involves a team approach of mental health therapy or counseling, medical observation from a primary care physician or psychiatrist, and medical nutrition therapy provided by a registered dietitian,” Gregg said.

Confronting a friend about a potential eating problem is tricky, but not impossible, Crawford said.

“I think to talk to anyone about a mental disorder can be a sensitive subject,” said Crawford. “The most important thing to remember is to be understanding, willing to listen and non-judgmental.”

For those seeking a support group on campus, Eating Disorders Anonymous is available to UA students. For more information, call (205) 348-0943. Body Acceptance and Self-Kindness, a support group led by Counseling Center staff, can be reached at (205) 348-3863.

What to Know:

• According to NIMH the average age of onset for anorexia is 19 years old, bulimia is 20 years old, and binge eating disorder is 25.

• Eating disorders are the mental illness with the highest mortality rate.

• Nationally, freshman gain between 2.5 and 3.5 lbs on average, as compared to the mythical “Freshman 15”

• 25.5% of college athletes exhibited eating disorder symptoms at a subclinical level in a study of 204 female athletes from 17 different spots at three universities.

• 35% of “normal” dieters progress to pathological dieting, and 20-25% progress to partial or full-syndrome eating disorders.

http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/sites/default/files/CollegeSurvey/CollegiateSurveyProject.pdf