*For the purpose of simplicity, this article will be written using feminine pronouns. Men are developing eating disorders in increasing numbers. Disordered eating is not solely a women's issue.
It's a rare person who is content with her body's appearance. Each day 78% of seventeen year old women awake dissatisfied with their bodies. On the same day 85% of adult women are on some kind of a diet aimed toward changing their physical appearance. Our society has become increasingly focused on body size and physical fitness. It's no longer enough to be strong and healthy, a really attractive man or woman must also be thin and toned. We equate physical beauty with sexiness, power, and having increased social and career choices. Those who don't achieve these ideals may feel discouraged, unworthy, or depressed.
The Bowdoin social environment is like our broader culture in its emphasis on physical attractiveness. When you add to this the pressure to excel academically, socially, and often athletically, a community is formed that can unintentionally encourage disordered eating and lack of self-acceptance.
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At the Bowdoin College Counseling Service we are committed to the entire student: mind, body, and spirit. We believe it is important to respect each person's rights and needs. We are mindful of the fact that just as disordered eating has multiple sources, it has a multidimensional impact on the student with no two individual's journeys down this path being the same. More detail about the Counseling Service's approach to treating disordered eating, as well as a list of available resources both on and off campus, is available here.
In providing information about eating disorders we want to emphasize what may seem obvious; the important element in all disordered eating is the person, not the symptoms. Each person struggling with disordered eating is unique. Her life has many facets of which her struggle with eating is only one. While lists of symptoms are a necessary part of providing education about disordered eating, it is crucial to stay focused on the most important part of the whole picture, the individual.
The student with anorexia:
Anorexia can cause permanent organ damage, loss of bone density with resulting fractures, and even lead to death.
The individual who is bulimic:
Bulimia can have severe physical consequences including weakness, irregular heartbeat, and even heart failure. Bulimia can be fatal.
A compulsive overeater:
Compulsive overeating can increase a person's risk of heart disease, diabetes and hypertension.
All of the counselors at the Counseling Service are experienced in working with students with disordered eating and body image issues. If you would like to make an appointment call Lindsay Moore, our Administrative Coordinator, at 725-3145, Monday-Friday from 8:30am to 5:00pm. She will be happy to help you. Feel free to let her know if you have preferences (for example: a woman counselor rather than a male) and she will do her best to try to accommodate you. If you would prefer seeing a counselor who isn't on the Bowdoin campus we can refer you to a local clinician. We're aware that coming to counseling can be difficult. We want to do all we can to make your experience as easy and positive as possible.
At other times, if you have an emergency and need to reach a counselor, call security at 725-3500.
One of the questions we are most frequently asked is how to help a friend who might have an eating disorder. While there are no firm guidelines to follow, there are some general suggestions you might consider.
Most students make efforts to be sensitive to the feelings of others. This same sensitivity needs to be shown when it comes to issues relating to food or body image. It is amazing how much we all talk about diets, eating habits, food, and size. The next time you are in one of the dining halls listen to some of the discussions going on around you, only listen from the standpoint of someone who is struggling with issues related to eating. When we think no one is listening other than our friends, value judgments frequently run rampant. Even a seemingly harmless "compliment" to someone who has lost weight can send the message that being thin is desirable and weight loss is good. For someone whose body image may already be shaky, these messages can have tragic consequences.
Be aware of the impact your words may have on others. You never know who might be struggling with these issues.