With fashion industries praising thin models and a growing number of social media sites designed to keep followers updated on the new weight-loss gossip, men and women are no longer comfortable in their own bodies and turning to disordered eating to help them lose weight.
Plattsburgh State Counselor Education Professor Portia Turco is familiar with disordered eating and has her own private practice helping individuals suffering from the diseases.
“Media is glorifying thinness. People should be careful about following different websites that promote thinness because that’s how people get sucked in and they feel like they have to compete with the individuals they see,” Turco said.
Turco believes the media has a lot to do with the way people view themselves.
“Predominately, the majority of eating disorders have the desire to look good, usually the individual is dissatisfied with how they look,” Turco said. “Eighty percent of American women are dissatisfied with their image.”
She said girls as young as 8 years old have body image problems due to what they see in the media.
Men can struggle with the diseases too, while they tend to over-exercise to try to project the men they see in the media, which can be a form of disordered eating.
“Signs to look at when someone over exercises is that they won’t skip a session even if they’re hungry, sick or they’re hurt,” Turco said.
Anorexia nervosa, one of the most predominate disorders, is when an individual is below their ideal weight and have a refusal to maintain a normal weight even if they’re underweight.
“They try to control their eating,” Turco said.
Some of the warning signs of Anorexia nervosa may be deliberate starvation, thinning hair or hair loss, loss of energy and withdrawal from social activities especially those including food. When in public, they shuffle their food around their plate to make it look like they are eating.
“Orthorexia is when a person only eats strictly lettuce and salads. It looks like they are being healthy, but really they’re not getting the other nutrients their bodies need,” Turco said. “Because it looks healthy, many people don’t realize it’s actually an eating disorder.”
Bulimia nervosa is when someone has a habit of binge eating and then purging their food.
“The person with bulimia tends to feel out of control with their eating,” Turco said.
Binge-eating is when the individual does not try to remove the food they eat. They usually gain a large amount of weight in a short period of time.
Turco said there are many complications that come along with eating disorders. She said vomiting can cause electrolyte imbalance, which can lead to a heart attack; gastric rupture, which can ultimately end in death; thyroid problems, low energy, constipation and irregular bowel movement. Females can often have a loss of their period or infertility.
“Most cases the individual suffering from an eating disorder is trying to have control over something in their life, so they try to control their weight and what they eat” PSUC mental health counselor Kristina Moquin said. “It’s not all about body image. It is more complex than that, more stuff going on within the individual, mentally and emotionally.”
Moquin said there are different theories of how disordered eating can start, such as people who have been through trauma, sudden losses and an individual’s genetics.
Both Moquin and PSUC graduate student Maddie Hope stressed the importance of looking for the signs of disordered eating, although the signs might be discrete. Disappearing after a meal, hearing someone regurgitate after eating and dramatic weight loss are all signs to look for.
“Many people do a great job at hiding their eating disorders, and it could be hard to tell at first,” Hope said.
Moquin said overcoming an eating disorder is similar to overcoming an addiction. She said individuals usually come in with the support of their friends, family, partner or physician.
Turco believes it is important to challenge the media stereotype that tells everyone to look the same.
“We all wear different shoe sizes and we don’t ever say ‘how come were not all size nine shoes,’ but we’re all expected to be the same jean size,” Turco said.