BY STAFF REPORTER
Healthy but not curvy. Skinny but not bony. Muscular but not overly. Beauty in America has become as extreme as an obsession for many. Research from the National Institute of Mental Health shows that 90% of eating disorder patients are diagnosed between 18 and 25 and a rough 25% of college students have eating disorders.
Dr. Neeru Bakshi is the medical director for the Eating Recovery Center of Washington located in Bellevue. She is a Board-certified adult psychiatrist and specializes in adult and adolescent psychiatry. With experience in consultation/liason psychiatry, inpatient and outpatient psychiatry, emergency partial hospitalization psychiatry but she too has seen the effects of today’s trends.
“Drunkorexia” – the practice of forgoing food in favor of more alcohol – has become one the many trends rising with disastrous long-term effects. Gastritis, ulcer and malnutrition are some consequences, accompanied by cognitive problems such as studying, focusing and making decisions. According to Dr. Bakshi, without proper help, “drunkorexia” can eventually lead to anorexia in some cases which has the highest death rate of any psychiatric illness.
Social media sites such as Tumblr, Pinterst and Instagram have all been accused of hosting what has been called “pro-ana” or “thinspiration” content. In simpler terms, pro-eating disorder content, which can be a huge trigger for this already at-risk to fall into the temptation of an eating disorder.
The society in which we live in is constantly thrown retouched images that can lead to unrealistic body image ideals for both genders. For women, the drive to lose weight is backed by the more current “thigh gap” trend. For men, the very notion of “manliness” is forced upon them. Both genders are targeted and both are confronted with a decision to chase after these ideals, which in turn are unhealthy and dangerous to achieve.
Although some chains such as Urban Outfitters have been confronted with their use of retouched images that portray unrealistic ideals, some notions have yet to change. In some parts of the world it is referred to as “First Year Fatties” or the “Fresher Spread.” Here in the United States, it is more commonly referenced as the dreaded “Freshman 15.”
Go to Google and type in “freshman.” The first thing that pops up are sites discussing the dreaded freshman weight gain and “useful” ways to prevent it. However, according to Bakshi, the “Freshman 15” is nothing more than a harmful myth. “Research studies out of Auburn University in Alabama and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill show that the Freshman 15 is much exaggerated. While these studies did show a slight gain, those studies did not gain any more weight than those who didn’t go to college, nor did they gain more than normal for bodies that are still growing.”
What some fail to take into account is the age of the freshman that are supposedly afflicted. Many students fresh from high school are still developing, their bodies in the last few steps of fully maturing. Weight gain is normal. If there is a true need to avoid gaining too much, however, Bakshi offers simple advise. Focus on eating when hungry, stopping when full and incorporating a balanced diet are the keys to a healthy weight while adjusting to a new environment like the transition to college.
There are on-campus solutions to eating disorders. Counseling services, support and recommendations for treatment are all available, however, if the eating disorder escalates professional consultants are highly suggested. If finances are a concern, Eating Recovery Center of Washington accepts a large variety of insurance plans. They have also partnered with American HealthCare Lending to offer financing for patients and their families in need of eating disorder treatment.