"If anorexia wins, the patient dies."- Moeller
Melissa Smith, 21 year old student at Kent State University, noticed when she was a junior in high school that her body was not like other girls. A comment from one of her close friends calling her “heavy” drove her to begin a restrictive diet. She was determined to lose weight. She said her eating disorder began when she was just 16.
Transitioning from life in high school to living on your own in college can be hard on some individuals. Stress may be heightened, anxiety and depression may develop, and some individuals even develop eating disorders. Eating
disorders are a growing problem among adolescents and students. The rate of hospitalization from eating disorders has risen 18 percent from 1999 to 2006, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
The National Association of Eating Disorders (NAED) defines an eating disorder as any extreme attitudes, emotions, and behaviors surrounding weight and food issues. Although they can be found among any gender, race, or age, they are prominent in young women.
According to Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), an estimated 5 to 15 percent of people with anorexia or bulimia are male. Eighty-six percent of
females report onset of an eating disorder before the age of 20. In addition, one quarter of college aged females engage in binging and purging as a weight management technique.
The three major types of Eating disorders, according to the NAED, are Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Binge Eating disorder. Anorexia nervosa is often the most easily recognizable with patients having a very low body weight. Individuals diagnosed with bulimia nervosa go through cycles of binging and purging. Binge eating disorder often results in clinical obesity.
After the death of her friend’s mother, Smith said she began binge eating and making herself throw up five times a day. It began to take its toll on others around her, such as friends who were hurt by her behaviors and put a serious strain on her relationship with her mother.
“Sometimes I feel bad that this has affected my mom so much. She has a hard time dealing with it and it has affected our relationship in a negative manner,” said Smith.
Smith’s close friend, a junior at California University of PA, said she has struggled trying to help her friend cope with her eating disorder. She said she noticed Smith's eating disorder get even worse once she came to college.
The stress of coming to school, making friends, and relying on food as a distraction made her gain weight which was very unsettling, said Smith.
“Food made me miserable. I was making myself throw up every day and so emotionally and physically exhausted,” said Smith.
Smith did a good job at keeping her eating disorder a secret from the outside world, only telling her close friends. Smith said she planned every day around when she was going to exercise, which had to be at least a two mile run. Deciding what she was going to eat was the hardest part of the day.
“Some days I wouldn’t let myself go out in public because I felt too fat. I felt as though I didn’t deserve to,” said Smith.
Dawn Moeller, licensed Psychologist at Cal U said she sees only two or three students each year who have “disordered eating”.
“When you ask someone with an eating disorder about their self-esteem, it is based on appearance, specifically weight,” Moeller said.
The tell-tale signs of an eating disorder among the people Moeller sees are often someone who appears to be underweight, thinning hair, constantly talking about eating and weight, ask specific questions about exercise, and often are depressed.
Eating disorders are a big problem among some college students, and a slight increase can be noticed, Moeller said.
“Every organ can be impacted by an eating disorder. Our biggest concern is death. If anorexia wins, the patient dies,” Moeller said.
According to ANAD, eating disorders have the highest mortality rates of any mental disorder. Only 1 in 10 people with an eating disorder receive treatment.
In February of 2011, Smith said she met the counselor who changed her life. She recommended professional therapy.
Smith attended therapy at the Center for Overcoming Problem Eating (COPE) where she was part of group therapy. She was forced to eat in front of others, weigh herself every session, and was assigned a diet plan in which exercise was prohibited.
COPE is located in UPMC Pittsburgh and is the only impatient therapy center in the region.
Diane Koram, a representative for COPE, said they provide impatient treatments, intensive outpatient treatments, and assessment appointments.
“Eating disorders most often start in adolescents and carry on into adulthood. The majority of patients have a recovery, and the minority will have a relapse,” Koram said.
“COPE helped, but it didn’t fully heal me. This is something I’m going to struggle with my whole life, something that I’m learning to control” said Smith.
Today Smith’s eating disorder has gotten a lot better, but she admits that she still has good and bad days. She said she reminds herself that it is not healthy to hate yourself and life is not about being skinny, but being healthy.
At Cal U, counselors can identify eating disorders, but not treat them, said Moeller. Those who are diagnosed with a severe or potentially life-threatening eating disorder are sent to COPE in Pittsburgh for treatment.
“The hardest part about eating disorders is the self hatred,” Smith said. “I believe it (eating disorders) is something that needs to be talked about more. It’s more common than people think.”
*The original name was changed to Melissa Smith for privacy purposes.