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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

National Eating Disorder Awareness Month highlights need for sensitivity

February is National Eating Disorder Awareness Month. A variety of different eating disorders (EDs) exist, each with common warning signs. Of course, every individual varies, so this particular list of symptoms is neither comprehensive nor exclusive. However, these habits are typical among those suffering from an ED and increasing awareness of these common signs will hopefully help contribute to continued intervention and treatment of EDs.

Anorexia nervosa is a condition wherein the afflicted limit food intake to an extreme degree. People with anorexia often avoid meals with others, spouting a variety of excuses to explain their behavior while striving to avoid situations that could draw attention to their condition. Anorexics may also seem consistently and unusually cold. People suffering from anorexia often lack the body fat reserves and extra energy necessary to maintain a high body temperature. Consequently, they may bundle up even in warm temperatures. Constant, yet subtle forms of physical activity are another common habit of anorexics. Any amount of activity expends calories, and people with EDs are well-aware of this. People with anorexia may incessantly bounce their legs or engage in other slightly surreptitious modes of constant movement. Loose, baggy clothing is also typical of people with anorexia, either as a way to conceal their illness or as a mode of hiding a body they perceive as imperfect. Finally, sufferers of more advanced, long-term anorexia often experience thinning hair caused by a lack of protein, vitamins and minerals in the diet (though this characteristic is more typical of severe EDs).

Anorexia athletica is a variation of anorexia nervosa involving excessive amounts of aerobic exercise. People with this particular ED can be hard to identify because they may eat normal, or even large, meals; however, their caloric expenditure exceeds their intake so they lose dangerous amounts of weight. This disease is characterized by unusually frequent bouts of exercise and subtle forms of constant movement.

Bulimia nervosa involves the consumption of large amounts of food (binging) followed by regurgitation (purging). The most obvious sign of bulimia is the consumption of an unusually large meal, followed shortly thereafter by a trip to the bathroom. However, purging is not inextricably linked to binging, as some people with this ED may purge without having eaten a large meal. People with bulimia often develop stained, unhealthy teeth, as they expose their enamel to stomach acid on a regular basis.

Binge-eating disorder is a condition wherein the afflicted consumes abnormally large amounts of food, but differs from bulimia in that it does not involve purging. This ED is often accompanied by a feeling of lost control.

If you think you know someone with an eating disorder and you wish to offer your help, remember to be gentle. If the person feels as though they are under attack, he or she is far more likely to become defensive and make more excuses for their habits. Although everyone needs a jolt of reality from time to time, people with eating disorders often do not react well to confrontations that seem accusatory. Instead, voice your concerns, offer your support, and perhaps kindly implore your friend to recognize their own suffering.

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It is very possible that I unintentionally excluded something from the list above or included something that former ED sufferers would disagree with. This list is simply based upon my observations and the knowledge gained after living through and processing an ED of my own.

If you wish to seek help for an eating disorder, several resources around campus can contribute to your recovery. The Campus Women's Center offers support services for both eating disorders and general body image issues. Though recently criticized in a letter to the editor, UHS nevertheless claims to offer Healthy Eating Services and group therapy for body image issues. Other non-university locations such as Madison Counseling Services also offer therapy for eating disorders.

EDs are sometimes viewed as conditions perpetuated by vanity; however, the prevalent feelings of self-disgust and the low self-confidence exhibited by sufferers of EDs clearly demonstrate the incredible error of this notion. Eating disorders are true manifestations of mental health difficulties and should be treated as such: with kindness, support and proper counseling.

Alyssa Lochen is a senior majoring in zoology and Spanish. Please send all feedback to

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