Regardless of whether or not a female college student is overweight, 83% of this
population report that they diet.
This is a problem in and of itself as it reveals the deeply rooted body dissatisfaction
and obsession with thinness that exists in our culture. Studies indicate 35% of
normal dieters progress to pathological dieting, 20 - 30 % of pathological dieters
progress to partial syndrome eating disorders and approximately 15% progress to
full syndrome eating disorders, making college and university campuses hot spots
for the development of both partial and full-blown eating disorders.
Even though only some dieters develop eating disorders, many others seriously suffer
physically and psychologically from dieting. Anti-dieting campaigns that expose
the utter failure, and in fact risks, of dieting are important health messages for
our campus health centers to portray. Furthermore, since eating disorders can end
college careers and lives, it is important to understand how a diet turns into a
disorder. What causes vulnerability in one individual versus another?
A simple way of explaining the development of an eating disorder is: “Genes load
the gun and environment pulls the trigger.” Our genes influence our traits such
as anxiety, perfectionism, or obsessiveness, all of which are common in individuals
with anorexia and bulimia. The environment includes culture, family and other relationships
and life experiences. Combine a trait such as perfectionism with a cultural milieu
that reveres thinness and promotes dieting, add a psychological stressor such as
parental divorce, and you have the makings of a ‘perfect storm’, or the creation
of an eating disorder.
In many ways we can view individuals who develop eating disorders as our cultural
“canaries in the coal mine.” Before more advanced alert systems existed, coal miners
would take canaries down into the mines to serve as warning signals. If the canaries
died or became ill this signaled to the miners, long before they would have detected
a problem, that the environment was toxic and they needed to get out. Like the canaries,
individuals who develop eating disorders may be our songbirds, warning us that our
current environment is toxic and we need to all take heed. Not everyone exposed
to the cultural obsession with appearance will develop an eating disorder (not everyone
who smokes will get lung cancer either) but for every person who does, there are
hundreds more who hate their bodies, destructively diet, engage in disordered eating
and lead unfulfilled lives. There are those who think that dealing with the cultural
aspect of the etiology of an eating disorder is old news, and we need to move on
to improving our brain scans or blood tests. But it’s not old news until we fix
it, and we are far from that. Body image dissatisfaction is a better predictor of
eating attitudes, eating behaviors, dieting pathology than other variables like
depression or self esteem.
In the meantime, we have to learn how to better detect and treat those with eating
disorders. We have to work hard to make our canaries, as well as the rest of us,
more resilient and resistant to the forces, both internally and externally, that
act upon us.
Monte Nido & Affiliates is renown for its unique programs treating eating and
exercise disorders. Founded in 1996 by Carolyn Costin, MFT, after her own recovery,
Monte Nido, became the first residential treatment center in a home, surrounded
by nature, yet offering all the services normally available only in a hospital setting.
Monte Nido has an impressive peer reviewed, published, one to ten year outcome study
showing a 89% success rate for anorexia and 75% for bulimia. The Monte Nido philosophy
is a client-centered, individualized approach using evidenced based treatment, enhanced
with mindfulness practices and the use of some “recovered” staff members. The goal
for each client is not only the absence of symptoms, but overall healing of any
underlying issues and a reconnection to what is truly sacred and meaningful in life.
For more information:
Malinauskas, B. M., Raedeke, T.mD.,
Aeby, V. G., Smith, J. L. & Dallas, M. B. (2006). Dieting practices, weight
perceptions, and body composition: A comparison of normal weight, overweight, and
obese college females. Nutrition Journal, 5(11). doi: 10.1186/1475- 2891-5-11
 Shisslak, C. M., Crago, M., &
Estes, L. S. (1995). The spectrum of eating disturbances. International Journal
of Eating Disorders, 18(3), 209-219.