Eating disorders are physical and psychological reactions towards food and weight that if not treated on time, they can have deadly consequences.

According to Alison Oberne, M.A. in general psychology and faculty member of the College of Public Health at USF, eating disorders are mental health disorders in which people tend to have struggles that include food as part of their conflicts.

There are many types of eating disorders, but the most commonly known are anorexia nervosa, bulimia and binge eating. The National Eating Disorders Association says on its website that all of them include extreme emotions, attitudes and behaviors surrounding weight and food issues.

The organization reported anorexia has one of the highest death rates of any mental illness. Ninety five percent of the victims are women, and approximately 15 percent of them will die if they do not receive treatment on time.

According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, one in 10 cases involves males, particularly for the disorder anorexia. Men will diet to avoid being teased about their appearance and to show their peers they can achieve a better body image and performance in their athletic activities.

The association’s statistics show that men are less likely to seek treatment for eating disorders because of the perception that they are “women’s diseases.”

Causes of eating disorders vary from biological to personality-related,” psychologist Oberne said. People with high level of perfectionism are likely to develop anorexia nervosa because of the idea of ‘being perfect,’ she added. Likewise, impulsivity—acting without considering all other actions—can lead a person to develop bulimia.

“People who try to overcome different traumas, such as sexual abuse or incest, can make themselves victims of eating disorders,” Oberne said.

For Dr. Disha Patel, eating disorders coordinator at the University of South Florida’s Counseling Center, it is crucial to know some warning signs that help people identify themselves and others as suffering from an eating disorder. Lack of social life, over exercising, excessive dieting and physical changes are some of these signs, she said.

Eating disorders are not new, but now some people with the disorders are using social media to spread their message. They create their own websites and forums, where they share their thoughts and give advice to others about keeping low weights and how to hide their issue from their family and friends.

Oberne said “thinspiration” is a new trend among pro-anorexia people. They share blog posts, phrases and images online to inspire others to be better at their disorder. Phrases like “Stop poisoning your body with food” or “My advice if you insist on slimming, eat as much as you like; just don’t swallow it” are some of these “thinspirational” words to people who are seeking to lose weight regardless of their health.

Oberne also said there are other methods of promotion of eating disorders. “Anna Rexia” is a costume by Dreamgirl Halloween Company. The advertisement of this black dress showing a skeleton shape and a tape measure wrapping the waist went viral on social media as a type of funny choice for Halloween night.

In an article by Proud2BMe online community, Dreamgirl director of marketing said, “We understand that some people will not find the dark humor funny. Or that they are sensitive to the topic it addresses. Halloween is an eccentric and irreverent holiday for people to express themselves in a myriad of ways. While some people may not like a particular costume, it is a matter of taste and personal discretion.”

USF’s Counseling Center provides free and confidential services to students who need to talk about their problems with specialists. Individual and body image group therapies are offered through the year, Patel said.

“Treatment is available. Recovery is possible.”, the National Education Disorders Association website says under treatment information tab. Treatments can take months and, in some cases, years. It varies according to the illness severity.

“Their food is not the problem,” Oberne said. “That’s how they try to solve it.”


Contributed by:

 Andrea Hidalgo, a USF beginning reporting student