Entering my final year here at Madison, there are some things that just don't shock me like they did freshman year. Three-story beer bongs, crying freshmen, Evangelicals, Harvest Fest; it was all crazy for a year or two, but somewhere toward the end of junior year I became habituated to seeing a guy play guitar while standing on his head.
But I will never get used to the sight of a student struggling with anorexia. Watching a person get sent to detox never produces the same pain as when I pass a starving student on the way to class. My stomach flips and my heart races, my jaw clenches to keep me from gasping––it usually takes me 30 seconds or so to battle back the fight-or-flight reaction my body produces. I can't say for sure why I react this way but I think it has something to do with a more basic human instinct that is activated by the sight of someone who is failing to survive.
Clearly Madison has a significant portion of its student body that actively struggles with, or is at risk for, an eating disorder such as anorexia. Having worked at an in-patient eating disorder center and seen close friends struggle with this disease, I have learned that prevention is what we need on campus. Even if a person can temporarily defeat the obsessions and compulsions of anorexia, he or she will struggle with body image issues for the rest of their lives. The good news, especially for women, is that a little knowledge about body image and weight lifting could prevent a significant portion of the at-risk population from developing anorexia.
For women, the two biggest improvements we could make toward preventing eating disorders are simply informational. Women need a different physical model to shoot for as well as a different method for getting there. Both can be found in the weight room at the SERF (South Eastern Recreational Facility). The hottest women on campus, and also the most physically fit, are found there and they know the best way to cut fat without resorting to eating disorders: lifting weights.
You can read the research studies or you can look at the dozen or so girls who seriously lift weights in our campus gyms and both will agree, cardio and low-calorie, low-fat diets are not the answer. People, and women in particular, get trapped into eating less and spending more time on elliptical machines. When they don't get results they go with the only thing they think will work––eating less.
It is clear where this can lead. Instead, women should be lifting weights, and I'm not talking about using 2.5 pounds to do 400 bicep curls.
Serious weight lifting, dead lifts, lunges, squats, pull ups, will burn more fat off your body than anything else. Sprints make a nice addition, and will help anyone stay cut, but the more muscle your body has the more energy it takes to sustain itself. Muscles are calorically expensive–– you have to feed them. So when women start lifting, they not only get stronger, they can eat more without getting fat. No starving, no ten-mile jogs before class. Shooting for the glamour model ideal with no muscle and no fat is not only unrealistic, it's unattractive. Men can tell the difference between a women who got skinny by dieting and a women who stays fit by lifting weights.
Men and women need to stop looking at magazines. The perfect looking models, male and female, don't walk around every day looking like they do in photo shoots. They lift weights and then cut weight, especially water weight, before the pictures are taken. At the SERF, the best-looking girls and guys are not spending their time on a treadmill. They are lifting, and then they are eating diets higher in protein and fat than their less-fit classmates.
I'm hoping to see more women in the weight room this year, not only because it makes the gym more fun, but because it will give women an alternative to extreme diets and eating disorders. Don't be scared that you will get too big or become unattractive. Most women simply don't have the testosterone to ""get jacked."" Instead you will be able to eat and enjoy a healthy diet, have the energy and strength to lead the life you want, and you will look great. No eating disorder required.
Andrew Carpenter is a senior majoring in psychology and communication arts. Please send responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.