Weight loss study affects eating disorders

Eating disorders are life-threatening illnesses that require intense medical, nutrition and psychological treatment. Unfortunately, 17 to 22-year-old students around the globe struggle with acquiring some sort of eating disorder during their college years. 

“If there were a book, meal plan or magic pill that could ‘cure’ an eating disorder, someone would have discovered it by now,” said Jennifer Lombardi, the executive director for the Eating Recovery Center of California.

Lombardi suffered from an eating disorder for nearly 20 years. Unfortunately at that time, there were very few treatment centers available for people struggling like Lombardi. In addition, insurance often didn’t cover the cost of treatment. However, much of this has changed.

“We were motivated to create a program that not only provides research-based, effective treatment from a medical, nutritional and psychological standpoint, but that most importantly has the needs of the patient always in mind,” said Lombardi.  

As director, Lombardi is very proud at how far they have come as a treatment community and of the unique services they provide.

A new study, conducted by researcher Melissa Whitelaw, a clinical specialist dietitian at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, Australia, revealed that teenagers don’t need to be rail thin to have dangerous eating behaviors associated with anorexia.

“Not everyone with anorexia looks the same way. It is more about the amount of weight lost than the numerical weight,” said Lombardi.

The study showed that many people don’t even appear as if they are anorexic, yet they suffer from the disorder. Emaciated bodies are the typical image portrayed in the media of patients with anorexia, but this new research confirms that even “normal-weight” looking kids can have anorexia. It’s not about the weight, but rather, the weight loss that can lead to a serious eating disorder. Even more disturbing, the study found that there was a six-fold increase in this type of patient during the six-year study period.

Lombardi believes it’s crucial for college students to be aware of this because for many young students, the pressure of the first semester of college creates the perfect storm for eating disorder development. In addition, it’s easy for teens to hide behaviors from their families, especially if they go to a school far away from home.

Toni Barocchia, a health education nurse at the Sonoma State University Student Health Center, discussed how eating disorders affect the campus.

“Our campus probably reflects the same amount of people with eating disorders as other college campuses with 9,100 students,” said Barocchia.  “Eating disorders are not always identifiable due to cultural norming of dieting and the praise women get for being thin.”

She mentioned how eating disorders are often related to an event in a person’s life and may be the way the person is coping with it.

 “I think there is a great pressure as freshman not to gain the ‘freshmen 15,’” said freshman Stephanie Rodriguez, “because many people are self conscious of their bodies and want to prevent gaining weight, especially in their first year away from home.”

Freshman Lyell Wycko also considers there to be a heavy amount of pressure as far as weight gain goes, and doesn’t feel the campus cafeteria offers enough healthy choices.

“Salads, which people drown in dressing, and occasional veggies that are soaked in sauces don’t really cut it in terms of good options,” said Wycko. “I haven’t avoided any meals but I try to pay attention to what I’m grabbing and how much.”

Sonoma State students seeking help with eating disorders are encouraged to call the Student Health Center, the Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) office, or the Eating Recovery Center of California phone line at 916-574-1000.