Eating disorders call for community solutions

Who isn’t afraid of the freshman 15?

Of all the myths of college life, this supposed weight gain haunts university freshmen most when they step onto campus.

It drives students to go to the Lyon Center every day or buy salads at Seeds Marketplace instead of orange chicken at Panda Express.

Max Rubin | Daily Trojan

Generally, maintaining a normal weight is a healthy lifestyle choice. The conversation on healthy weight, however, tends to ignore the other end of the spectrum: obsessiveness about food.

Almost 10 percent of college-age women have a clinical or near-clinical eating disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. That is no small number, but somehow, anorexia, bulimia and other eating disorders still aren’t talked about freely on college campuses.

Eating disorders include anorexia (not eating), bulimia (binging, purging and laxative and diuretic use) or some combination of the signs and symptoms of anorexia, bulimia, and/or binge eating disorder.  Just one or two of these behaviors might not be considered a full syndrome eating disorder, but they can still be physically dangerous and emotionally draining.

All eating disorders require professional help. Community support is also important. The lack of conversation doesn’t make sense when one considers that an October 2011 University of Cincinnati study showed that 50 percent of college students know someone with an eating disorder.

Students need to start being advocates for their own health and for the health of their friends. We need to start talking to each other about our concerns.

Eating disorders are often ignored because of the sensitivity and confusion surrounding the issue. For example, it’s hard to criticize someone for being too thin when they can frame it as an issue of trying to be healthy.

What’s the difference between healthy and “too healthy”?

Lady Gaga recently opened up to the media about her battle with bulimia in high school — and how she only stopped because she realized the purging was ruining her vocal chords.

There are other consequences. For example, constant purging can cause severe dehydration and electrolyte imbalance, which can result in cardiac arrest or seizures. Anorexia leads to malnutrition and therefore myriad related health issues.

Deciding whether to confront a friend can be difficult. Many people worry about losing that friend or creating awkwardness in the relationship; there is a fine line between being concerned and interfering.

So what can we do to navigate these issues on campus?

Make yourself a role model. If you see a friend in need, sit down and express your concerns without being accusatory. That friend might open up to you if he or she feels ready.

Just like you wouldn’t hesitate to tell your friend that he or she might have an alcohol or drug problem, don’t be afraid to address a friend’s eating habits as a matter that jeopardizes his or her health.

Still, if you feel uncomfortable approaching someone, you have other options.

Trojans Care for Trojans is an anonymous texting and calling hotline for people who want to help a friend in need but aren’t sure how to provide support. TC4T helps mobilize campus resources to approach a variety of situations. If you have a friend you feel would benefit from an anonymous tip, TC4T might be an appropriate step.

In addition, talk therapy, nutritional skill building and medical care are available on and off campus. Books dealing with various eating disorders can be found at the Office for Wellness and Health Promotion.

As a community, USC students do a great job of encouraging each other to stay physically fit. We also need to encourage each other to be well — this includes communicating our concerns about disordered eating.


Natalie Chau, Brooke Sanders and Lucas Griffin are peer health educators of the Office for Wellness and Health Promotion.