Though eating disorders cross gender, age and racial lines, female college students are thought to be particularly vulnerable with one study finding 15 percent of women between 17 and 24 struggle with the issue.
The Multi-Service Eating Disorders Association also found that 20 percent of college students acknowledged having — or having had — an eating disorder and that 91 percent of female college students have tried to control their weight through dieting. For one Univeristy of Miami student, that dieting quickly progressed into anorexia.
“I started eating less and less, and getting obsessed with working out. It got to the point that I would measure the amount of food I was eating, the amount of carbs, ultimately limiting myself from the majority of the food one should have,” said Mariana Monserratt. “In addition, I started writing everything I would consume on a day to day, including the amount of coffee or even water that I drank.”
Valerie George, a professor at Florida International University who studies obesity and nutrition, said many people who suffer from eating disorders have a skewed vision of what they look like.
“Based on the ‘Self-Discrepancy Theory,’ the discrepancy between current body image and ideal body image is described as body image dissatisfaction,” said George.
Monserratt said she didn’t know how bad it was getting until it was almost too late.
“My friends kept telling me I was super skinny, in my head it was a compliment, yet I did not realize how much weight I was actually losing,” she said. “I didn’t realize I was anorexic until it started to affect my health.”
Monserratt added she has been dealing with other mental health issues, something not uncommon among those suffering from eating disorders.
“I have been in treatment with a psychiatrist for the past year, trying to help me cope with my anxiety, depression, insomnia and anorexia,” she said.
Eating disorders are commonly associated with women, though it affects all genders, cultures and ethnicities.
“Traditionally, women have been shown to strive for thinness and men for a more muscular physique,” said George.
A recent study, conducted by George and her colleague Carrie Mayo, explored how men are affected by the issue.
“We found that a particularly high percentage, 13 percent, of these male students were at risk for eating disorders, and 28 percent of males would be recommended to seek evaluation from a mental health professional to address eating disorder risk,” she said.
Disordered eating, said George, includes behaviors like binge eating, compulsive eating, or chronic restrained eating.
“More recent data with college men, however, suggest that about 25 percent binge eat and 3 percent have used a purging behavior, and in another recent study in 2012 it was reported that four to six percent of college males have bulimic-like concerns,” said George.
For confidential help with eating disorders call the National Eating Disorders helpline: (800) 931- 2237.