Christine Dacey, chair of the department of psychology, answers questions about the prevalence of eating disorders, the myths surrounding them and what you can do to help.
Q: Are there more cases of eating disorders today than 10 or even 20 years ago? Whom do they affect most? A: There is not clear evidence that eating disorders are more prevalent today than 10 years ago. However, there is greater awareness among us about these issues, due to the attention in the media and the literature. So, it is possible that more individuals are actually diagnosed and receiving treatment today. It seems clear that, in cultures that equate thinness with self-worth, there are more concerns about body image dissatisfaction and increased prevalence of eating disorders. Eating disorders often begin as a method of dieting related to poor body image but become much larger issues involving psychological and physical complications.
Many researchers have indicated that the prevalence rates for eating disorders are higher in college women than in other groups. College has been recognized as a risk factor for the development of or exacerbation of disordered eating patterns for a variety of reasons, including, but not limited to, high stress levels associated with high needs for achievement, loss of social support when moving away from home to attend college coupled with increased expectations for independence and responsibility, insecurity about one's identity or some combination of factors.
Q: What are some of the myths surrounding eating disorders? A: A person with an eating disorder is likely to keep her struggles hidden, as most individuals feel ashamed and embarrassed about their behavior. They fear that friends and family would feel negatively towards them if they knew about their problems. So one myth is that persons with an eating disorder will talk about it with close friends and family.
Another myth is that friends and family will just be able to tell if someone has an eating disorder. The person struggling with the disorder will go to great lengths to hide it. For instance, she is likely to spend increasingly more time by herself so others will be less likely to notice how she is dealing with food. Friends may feel offended by her lack of response to social invitations and distance themselves from her, not understanding the real reasons as to why she does not want to be social.
It is a myth to consider that eating disorders are not serious or will just be "outgrown" by most individuals. Eating disorders are serious and can be fatal. Individuals with eating disorders experience a great deal of emotional pain, and many are clinically depressed and and may struggle with other issues as well. Individuals with eating disorders generally require mental health and often medical treatment.
A final myth is that only women have eating disorders. More recent literature suggests that increasing numbers of men are struggling with eating disorders.
Q: How can someone identify when someone else has an eating disorder? Since it's such a sensitive subject, how can one approach this? A: If you have a friend or relative that you suspect may have an eating disorder, you can call the Psychological Services Center (513 745-3531) or the Health and Counseling Center (513 745-3022) on campus and gain direction on how to assist your friend get the help he or she needs.