It’s not just a diet

by Jackie Roman / Beacon Staff • February 26, 2014

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The dangers of collegiate eating disorders.
The dangers of collegiate eating disorders.

Spring break doesn’t have to be upon us to hear phrases similar to “I’m going on a diet” reverberating off the walls. Students  at Emerson might not be going to the beach during the break, but there are enough plays, dances, and photoshoots to provide motivation for getting a top-notch bathing suit–body. And with all the hype surrounding that breakout moment, it seems the spotlight never shines on what really needs attention: eating disorders.

The danger lies in the fact that most of the college’s majors depend on image for success. Musical theater majors are assigned a nutrition and fitness plan. Acting majors may take physically demanding classes or roles that require them to lose weight and tone muscles. Even members of extra curricular performance groups, like Kidding Around or Musical Theater Society, feel pressure to cut pounds before a starring role. With all of these things going on, it’s not hard to know of a friend that’s on a juice cleanse, or who’s giving up carbs for a few weeks before the premiere. A preoccupation with image has become normalized here at Emerson.

But there’s something wrong with that, because in the cacophony of diet talk, it can be hard to decipher just how far is too far. The prevalence of eating disorders in college–aged men and women has risen, according to the National Eating Disorder Association. As the issue grows, the awareness of its severity seems to wane. Dieting can be healthy and beneficial, but it can also damage a person’s relationship with food and lead to obsessive tendencies. Yet dieting, fasting, and detoxing are so normalized on a campus like Emerson’s that people may not be taking a real problem seriously when it arises. 

One underestimated, yet rising risk in colleges is “drunkorexia.” 

This is basically the ritual of starving before a night out, so the calories avoided during the day can be consumed through alcohol at night, guilt-free. Drunkorexia is brushed off as something ill-informed college students do on the weekends, but even if it is just something done every Saturday, it is symptomatic of a disordered eating pattern and an illogical approach to food consumption. We’re brushing this off as a part of party culture, but if your friend is over-exercising at the gym every Friday, or only eating fruit cups for half the week to prepare for a party, it should be addressed. 

The problem is that some of us may have already confronted our acting friend about their weird fruit and nut diet or our fun-loving roommate about her Saturday fast before going out. These people may have brushed off their disorders as nothing notable. They might say “everybody diets.” They might say that all the dancers cut weight to stay on the team. But a survey conducted by the Eating Disorder Recovery Center found that an astounding 48 percent of college students with eating disorders didn’t even think or know they had one. This means that our society makes dangerous activities like binging, purging, and starvation seem standard. Our conversations about food and our view of eating disorders has to change if we want to put a halt to this epidemic.

We need to discontinue sarcastic comments about food indulgence. If I’m eating an entire medium pizza or pint of Ben & Jerry’s, chances are the last thing I want to hear is “Oh, you’re hungry, huh?” We also need to cease being diet police for our friends. It doesn’t matter if your friend announced that they are going on a diet to you; it is not helpful to chastise them when they reach for a cookie the next day. These comments only send negative messages about food consumption, and force the consumer to feel shame about their eating. This could lead to damaging behavioral patterns, such as binging in secret. An open and positive environment that encourages candid discussion about food is best in helping detect disordered eating habits and then getting them treated. 

The aforementioned triggers might seem minor and almost ridiculous to watch out for, but maybe that shows just how delicate a state people with eating disorders are in. They are so acutely aware of food and their body that unrelated instances may be construed as deliberate critiques. In honor of Eating Disorder Awareness week, let’s take this illness more seriously and work harder for “detection, intervention, and treatment.”