College campuses fight against eating disorders

Katherine Roth

The years that teenagers spend in college offer exciting and new experiences. Doing laundry without mom there to help sort out colors, getting along with roommates and doing well academically are just some of the experiences that are discovered.

However, living away from home presents students with more responsibility when it comes to eating habits, including the decisions of what to eat in the dining halls and what to eat when consumed by a busy schedule. Those individuals that develop eating disorders are often those that use control of eating and body weight as a way to cope with the feelings of powerlessness over the ever-changing external environment.

“I think that there are eating disorders on every campus, so much that it is a national epidemic,” said Jennifer Fleckenstein, a second-year graduate student in the education and human services field who is a resident assistant for Stanford Hall, “Especially since personal appearance is so prominent, people obsess with what they eat and how they look.”

According to Gray’s Medical Dictionary, eating disorders are a group of disorders characterized by physiological and psychological disturbances in appetite or food intake. The two most well-known eating disorders are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Both disorders have specific signs that are attributed to them.

With anorexia nervosa, a person becomes increasingly worried that he/she is fat or has an intense fear of getting fat, which leads to eating less and less. An overabundance of exercise is also seen with a lot of anorexia cases, as those who suffer look to burn calories to keep their weight down.

Other signs for anorexia include a disinterest in sex, irregular or stopped monthly menstrual periods in women and the shrinkage of genitals back to the size they were before puberty in men.

Anorexia generally starts in the teenager years and affects one in 150 girls 15-year old girls and one in 1,000 15-year-old boys. However, anorexia can start in childhood or later than the teenage years.

Bulimia nervosa generally starts around the same age as anorexia nervosa, but it normally stays hidden longer as compared to anorexia nervosa. Four in 100 women suffer from bulimia at some point in their lives. Finding bulimia in men is much less common; however, those who wrestle or deal in sports where weight class can determine a win or loss are more likely to experiment with bulimia to continue winning. While the signs of bulimia are similar to anorexia, the methods of losing the weight are different.

People who suffer from bulimia often binge eat. They often buy lots of fattening food that they wouldn’t normally eat and eat it all quickly in secret. The end result is that the victim of bulimia feels guilty and depressed from having eating all that food, and tries to purge themselves of the food by making themselves sick or by using laxatives.

Eating disorders affect many facets of a person’s life. The patient may find it hard to eat a normal meal because the stomach has shrunk. There is often a constant feeling of tiredness and chills because the body’s metabolism has slowed down considerably. Bones become brittle, pregnancy is usually unattainable and in some extreme cases, a person could die. Anorexia has the highest statistic of death for any psychiatric disorder. Eating disorders also affect sleep, concentration and mood.

However, Villanova University works hard to make headway against their students developing eating disorders. Constant reminders of what to eat are posted on the walls of the dining halls and printed in pamphlets for understanding and planning meals.

The Health and Wellness Center offers programs in nutrition and is willing to have people ask questions when it comes to knowing how to go about choosing food in the dining hall.

“The Health and Wellness Center is definitely the primary source for aid in preventing and stopping eating disorders from affecting a student. They have recovery groups and other things to accomplish aiding a student,” Fleckenstein later revealed.

Most people have not expressed a problem with maintaining a healthy diet from what is provided in the dining halls. “It’s not been difficult to maintain a healthy diet since coming to school,” freshman Alyssa Bieler said. “I don’t keep a lot of food in my room and I stay away from the greasy stuff like cheesesteaks and fries. The fruit and salad bars are what are key.”

If you or a friend have suffered from an eating disorder and you feel that you need to talk to someone, call the Health and Wellness Center at (610) 519-4070 or the Counseling Center at 610) 519-4050.